13,000 children in England identified as being at risk of criminal exploitation by gangs

New figures have revealed that 12,720 children in England were identified by social services as being at risk of criminal exploitation by gangs in the last year.

01/11/21

13,000 children in England identified as being at risk of criminal exploitation by gangs

New figures published by the Department for Education (DfE) have shown that 12,720 children assessed by children's social services in England between 1 April 2020 and 31 March 2021 were deemed to be ‘at risk’ due to gang involvement.

The number of children identified as at risk due to gang involvement is 13% lower than pre-COVID levels in 2019/20 (14,700) but still 16% higher than 2018/19 (10,960).

The figures also show there were 16,830 children where child sexual exploitation was a factor during their assessment and 2,710 children where trafficking was a factor. In London alone, 3,500 children were identified as a being at risk as a result of involvement with gangs, while 2,650 children were identified as being at risk as a result of child sexual exploitation.

The overall statistics in the DfE's annual Children in Need data also reveal a fall in the number of children being referred to social services during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. The figures show there was a 31% drop in referrals via schools during the period when schools were closed twice to most children, suggesting some vulnerable children were out of sight of teachers, who play a vital role in spotting the need for children's social services to assess a child.

The Commission on Young Lives, the independent year-long commission looking at how to develop a national plan to divert vulnerable children away from gangs and serious violence, chaired by former Children's Commissioner, Anne Longfield, is warning that the number of children referred for gangs is likely to be the ‘tip of the iceberg’, with overall referrals falling over the last year during lockdown.

Anne Longfield, Chair of the Commission on Young Lives and former Children's Commissioner for England, responding to the figures, said the number of children being referred to social services because of fears of gang exploitation is “extremely troubling”.

“During a period when the country was in lockdown twice, thousands of vulnerable children were still being sucked into gangs, serious violence and crime or sexually exploited.

"I am particularly worried about the very sharp drop in referrals during the two school lockdowns. Even though schools were open for vulnerable children, many did not attend, and it is very concerning that many have dropped off the radar since.

"We need to ask why we are still losing thousands of marginalised teenagers to the ruthless criminals who are so adept at spotting and exploiting vulnerable children and how we can find better solutions to stop it from happening.

"The systems that are supposed to be there to help vulnerable children are under pressure and badly need reforming. It is time to find new ways of bringing hope and success to young people who fall through the gaps and end up in danger.

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