Commission launched to stop vulnerable children falling into a life of gangs and crime

Former children's commissioner, Anne Longfield, launches commission to halt the 'conveyor belt' of vulnerable children falling into the hands of gangs and criminals.

10/09/21

Commission launched to stop vulnerable children falling into a life of gangs and crime

Anne Longfield, former Children's Commissioner for England, is launching a major year-long independent commission to develop a new national system to stop the conveyor belt of vulnerable teenagers becoming involved in knife crime, serious violence, criminal gangs, and the justice system.

The Commission on Young Lives aims to devise a new and achievable national system of support, focused on preventing crisis and improving opportunities of vulnerable children at risk of getting into trouble with the law. It will look at how better to strengthen families, support children to stay in school, improve mental health support for children, protect children at risk and prevent children in care from becoming involved in violence, criminalisation, and the wider criminal justice system.

The Commission says those working with vulnerable children are seeing the level of severity of problems become even higher – more domestic abuse, greater food poverty, a resurgence in knife crime and in teenagers turning up at A&E with stab wounds, more children struggling with mental health problems, with some unwilling to get back in to school. They warn that safeguarding incidents have become more extreme. Youth workers who before the pandemic were dealing with weekly new cases involving teenagers and serious violence, or in danger of exploitation, now talk about daily increases in demand.

Anne Longfield, Chair of the 'Commission on Young Lives', launching the Commission, said the pandemic has “dealt a strong hand” to the gangs and criminals who exploit vulnerable children.

“It has compounded the cocktail of risks like domestic violence, parental mental health problems, addiction issues, and not attending school that can see children falling off the radar and into danger.

"At the same time, the methods used to entice and trap teenagers into criminality are brutal and increasingly sophisticated. We are making it too easy for them to use our children.”

"Society is struggling to know what to do, and the response is often disjointed, underfunded and uncoordinated. Yet this is an issue that many parents are deeply worried about, and they fear is getting worse.

The 'Commission on Young Lives' is hosted and supported by the Oasis Charitable Trust, who will soon begin running the first Ministry of Justice secure school – a new therapeutic model for children in custody.

The Commission also includes a national panel of experts and leaders with personal and professional insight and understanding of the issues and impact on the lives of young people and communities, and with extensive experience of delivering change in communities, services and in government. Panel members include Baroness Louise Casey, Rev. Steve Chalke (Founder of Oasis), Junior Smart (Founder of the 'SOS Project' at St. Giles Trust), Martin Hewitt (Chair of the national Police Chiefs Council) and Kendra Houseman (Founder 'Out of the Shadows').

Rev. Steve Chalke, founder of Oasis Charitable Trust and a member of the Commission's expert panel, said too many children continue to fall through the gaps between our various statutory systems and services.

“It seems that the more vulnerable a child is, the thinner the layers of support that are there for them in the first place. The pandemic many have magnified these issues, but it is society's neglect that created them.”

Commenting on the announcement on Twitter, Chair of the Review of Children’s Social Care in England Josh MacAlister said: “Great to see Anne Longfield bringing a much needed focus to vulnerable teenagers at risk of criminal or sexual exploitation. Lots of overlap with the work of the #CareReview, I’m looking forward to hearing early findings as this progresses.”

The Commission was also welcomed by the Local Government Association (LGA) who saw the move as helpful in preventing young people from becoming involved in serious violence.

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said years of austerity have meant that funding for important early intervention measures has instead been used on those in more critical need.

“Council-run youth services have a vital role to play in helping young people avoid being drawn into harmful and dangerous situations. However, these services have seen funding reduced by more than two-thirds in real terms since 2010, which means limited funding for prevention work is being diverted into services to protect children who are at immediate risk of harm,” Bramble said.

“We want to work with government ahead of the Spending Review to invest fully in children and youth services, which is key to tackling serious violence, to help them avoid long-term unemployment, mental health problems and being lured into criminal activity, to ensure no one is left behind.

“This includes making the £500 million Youth Investment Fund – first promised by the Government two years ago in September 2019 - available as soon as possible.

“We are also calling for Violence Reduction Units – currently in 18 police force areas - to be extended to all police forces in England and Wales and for them to have five years long-term funding, rather than year-on-year commitments.”

Find out more about the project: https://thecommissiononyounglives.co.uk/

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