Headline statistics show a fall in gang-activity and exploitation. However a new report from the National Youth Agency (NYA) shows that gangs have adapted to COVID-19, changing locations and grooming new recruits – hidden in plain sight of those in authority.

More young people are in potentially unsafe environment with little or no contact and limited access to support services during lockdown. Young people still go missing and stay away from home, but often for shorter periods and are not reported missing. Some young people are not necessarily known by the police or other services, but most are likely to be known by youth workers,” said Leigh Middleton, NYA Chief Executive.

He added: “Just at the time when they are needed the most, many youth work projects stopped or become severely restricted due to COVID-19. Now is the time for more youth work, not less.

The new report includes insight from the front line of youth workers on their increased concerns for street-gangs and organised criminal gangs. Where street-based youth work has been sustained it can help young people known to be involved or vulnerable to gangs. However, diversionary projects have closed and few specialist services are open to help young people exit gangs safely. Meanwhile online activity is stoking up a rapid return of gang violence and there are real fears for an increase in gang activity and child criminal exploitation post-lockdown.

The importance of youth services has been stressed by national police chiefs, the Children’s Commissioner for England and recent national inquiries. NYA is calling for:

  • Youth services to be classified as an essential service and youth workers given key worker status
  • Clear Home Office guidance to embed youth services in Violence Reduction Units and other agencies now to meet immediate needs, and sustained over time
  • A Youth Service Guarantee, recommended by the Home Affairs select committee, to secure long term funding and greatly increase the number of youth workers

To download the report, click the cover below:

Commenting on the report Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said:

Lockdown removed many of the usual ways of identifying children at risk of being exploited by gangs.  With the closure of schools and youth centres, thousands of vulnerable young people have simply gone off the radar. As rules are relaxed there will be particular dangers for young people at risk of criminal exploitation.

London Deputy Mayor, Sophie Linden added:

The underlying causes of serious youth violence and child exploitation have not gone away and gang leaders are not sitting idly by waiting for lockdown to pass – they are adapting to target and exploit young people in new ways during a time when they are isolated from many of the services and groups there to protect them.

For media enquiries: Jonathan Hopkins mob. 07899 877210; jonathanh@nya.org.uk

Notes for the Editor:

  • 60,000 young people (aged 10-17) identify as a gang member or know a gang member who is a relative. This rises to over 300,000 of young people who know someone in a gang, and up to 500,000 when including groups of young people in groups exposed to ‘risky behaviour’ associated with gangs.
  • For those most at risk of gang-associated activities and exploitation, over one million young people are from a ‘vulnerable family background’ of which nearly 450,000 are unknown to formal or statutory services but are likely to be known by youth workers.
  • NYA is the national body for youth work in England (Professional, Statutory & Regulatory Body). For more information visit nya.org.uk
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