We welcome the focus on making child criminal exploitation a national priority and support this recommendation made by the Children’s Commissioner. Through our work at Safer London, we see the stigmatising impact of the language and labelling of children affected by this type of harm and what it means to be perceived as a ‘gang member’ or indeed associated to one. Any research which quantifies estimated numbers of children ‘in gangs’ needs to be treated with some caution and allow for consideration of potential structural inequalities and bias in the national statistics available. We need to make sure that children, young people and communities with lived experience are involved in creating the solutions and responses to this issue.
We believe that extra familial risk to children and young people, in the form of exposure to gangs and serious youth violence, should be considered as a form of significant harm and therefore child abuse. Research shows that the accumulative impact of harm and trauma can have a significant impact. Criminal exploitation and exposure to gangs is a public health problem which affects a significant proportion of the population and can have a long-lasting impact for those who experience it, as well as wider societal implications. Exposure to gangs and child exploitation rarely occurs in isolation and children and young people affected by these forms of abuse are often responded to through criminal justice processes, rather than from a safeguarding perspective, lacking trauma informed support and safeguarding, including for families and communities.
Whilst child sexual exploitation is becoming increasingly better identified, reported and responded to other forms of extra-familial harm are still somewhat behind. As suggested in the report we have an opportunity now to learn and influence change in the systems and practice in place to support and protect children, young people and families affected by all forms of extra-familial harm.