“Gang prevention work needs to start in primary school, say MPs”

By Joe Lepper

| 27 February 2015

Urgent action is needed in schools to warn pupils as young as seven of the dangers of gang involvement, according to a report by MPs.

The report into gangs and youth crime by the Commons home affairs committee says anti-gang prevention work in all schools, including primary schools, needs to be increased to reflect that "children as young as seven are at risk of gang involvement".

Among a raft of recommendations is a call to expand primary school anti-gang education programmes. Also every school in areas blighted by gang violence needs to appoint a senior teacher to co-ordinate anti-gang measures.

Among those giving evidence to the committee was Junior Smart, team leader of SOS Gangs Project, which works with schools to combat gang crime. He told MPs about one primary school near to an estate controlled by a local gang where the day after a gang recruitment drive “the kids came in wearing the same colour bandanas tied around their faces”.

Sheldon Thomas, chief executive of another anti-crime group, Gangsline, told MPs that the key time to build resilience among young people to prevent them joining gangs is between seven and 11.

He told MPs how primary school pupils in some areas are earning £40 a week selling drugs. By the time they are 15 they can expect to earn up to £500 a week through drug dealing for gangs.

Committee chair Keith Vaz MP said: “Children as young as seven are at risk of gang involvement and it is at this very young age that intervention must take place before the situation spirals out of control.

“Early prevention programmes are vital and primary school anti-gang education programmes in particular should be expanded.”

The committee is also critical of government-led efforts so far to combat gang culture.

Committee members said the Home Office had “failed to effectively evaluate” its £10m Ending Gang and Youth Violence programme. In calling for better measurement of anti-gang initiatives MPs also want to see more research into effective methods of combating sexual exploitation in gangs.

According to research from the Office of the Children's Commissioner for England there are 2,409 children and young people subject to sexual exploitation in gangs and an estimated further 16,500 children are at risk.

MPs also want to see every chief constable appoint a lead officer responsible for supporting gang members at risk of sexual exploitation as well as co-ordinate training and mentoring to prevent gang crime.

Vaz added: “Girls and young women often experience sexual victimisation and violence within gangs, and they can face significant risks when attempting to leave.

“It is lamentable that such limited progress has been made in identifying and risk-assessing young people linked to gang members.”

The committee also called for closer scrutiny of police action against gangs through a six-monthly league table on gang injunctions.

Crime prevention minister Lynne Featherstone said: “Gang and youth violence has a devastating impact on the young people who get caught up in it, as well as their families and communities. We are currently considering the recommendations of the report.

“Our Ending Gang and Youth Violence programme is the first ever truly cross-government approach to tackling this issue – working in a targeted way with local areas. We will shortly be publishing our annual report on the progress made through the programme, and this will include feedback from local areas which captures their perceptions of the programme and its perceived impacts, and the effect of the role of Young People’s Advocates.

“Gang and youth violence is not an issue that any one agency or government department can tackle alone. It requires the police, teachers, social workers, housing officers, youth workers, employment advisers and many others working together, making links, sharing information and forging partnerships.”