Vulnerable children forced onto ‘conveyor belt’ of crime by Covid lockdowns

Ex-Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield said gangs are using sophisticated methods to entice youngsters into criminality and society is struggling to know what to do

Vulnerable children have fallen onto a “conveyor belt” of crime as lockdown made it easier for gangs to exploit them, the former Children’s Commissioner has warned.

Anne Longfield said lockdowns compounded the “cocktail of risks” youngsters are exposed to including domestic violence, parental mental health problems, addiction issues and not attending school.

To tackle this, she’s launched the ‘Commission on Young Lives’ supported by the Oasis Charitable Trust today.

Exclusive polling for the new commission revealed 60% of parents are concerned that their child could become a victim of knife crime or serious violence.

Even before Covid hit in March 2020, almost 15,000 children had been referred to social services where gangs were a factor in their assessment in the previous year, a rise of 4,000 in twelve months. , the commission found.

Ms Longfield said: “Covid 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.

“The Commission on Young Lives will develop systems of protection and support to help keep vulnerable children safe and inspire them to succeed.

“We will show how we can achieve better outcomes for marginalised children by providing affordable solutions to the government and others.”

There are currently thought to be around 600 county lines gangs operating in the UK, down from around 2,000 two years ago.

The crime gangs are urban drug dealers who sell to customers in more rural areas via dedicated phone lines.

In just one week of action against county lines drug dealing gangs in May, more than 1,000 people have been arrested and 292 weapons seized as part of a national crackdown on county lines drug dealing gangs.

The launch of this commission comes weeks after Boris Johnson promised the wider use of public “chain gangs” to tackle yobs as he defended his approach to law and order in the face of police anger over a pay freeze.

The Prime Minister, launching the Government’s Beating Crime Plan, said people should be able to identify those who have been sentenced to community service for anti-social behaviour carrying out their punishment.

The plan also includes a permanent relaxing of conditions on the use of controversial Section 60 Stop and Search powers, effectively undoing reforms brought in by his predecessor, Theresa May.

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 may have magnified these issues, but it is society’s neglect that created them.”

The Commission on Young Lives will run for a year and identify solutions that transform the outcomes of the most marginalised teenagers who are at risk of violence, harm, criminalisation and diminished opportunities.

It will show how we can achieve better outcomes for children at risk by designing a national system of long-term support for vulnerable teenagers and working with people to help them rebuild their communities.

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