St Giles Trust’s response to Children’s Commissioner report
We are very pleased that the report recognises that the age of young people being exploited is decreasing and that victims are becoming increasingly vulnerable. We also welcome that fact that it highlights many of these victims are unseen and not known to the authorities.
It bears with our own experiences of being one of the leading charities offering specialist support to young people affected by this issue. Annually, our SOS project, which offers support to young people exploited through gangs, works with an active caseload of around 800 young people predominantly in London and the south east. Last, the team recorded 287 young people as having successfully exited gangs.
St Giles Trust Chief Executive Rob Owen OBE said: “The level of grooming and abuse of children by gangs is extremely alarming. Intensive interventions are urgently needed at very early ages. We are talking primary school age - in our experience the abuse and grip of gangs starts at about the age of 10 or 11. These children are currently falling through the gaps and credible services like those provided by St Giles Trust need to be dramatically scaled up if we are to avert a ticking time bomb.”
We particularly welcome the following findings and recommendations in the report:
Treating young people involved in gangs as victims - a key way to further this is to offer training to statutory agencies in local areas to help them gain a better understanding of the issue and equip them with the skills to address it.
The need for at least one trusted adult to offer support to the young person – in our experience we believe this support is best offered by someone with lived experience of gang involvement themselves who can act as a bridge between the young person and the authorities. They are very skilled at engaging the most vulnerable young people who are often off the radar of the authorities. They are able to engage, positively challenge and inspire the young person in a way that individuals without lived experience is not always able to do.
The importance of early intervention – St Giles Trust provides support to heavily disadvantaged families through our wider work. These teams work closely with the SOS Project so that support for the whole family can be offered. We also carry out preventative work in schools with primary schools to raise awareness of the issue and help children build resilience to exploitation.
The importance of a public health-based approach – alongside recognising the importance of mental health services there are also important interventions that can be carried out in hospital settings with young victims who are admitted as patients. Having suffered some form of trauma or injury, the young person is often highly receptive to help. St Giles Trust work with The Royal London Hospital in its Major Trauma Centre and last year helped 162 young people.
The role of schools exclusions in increasing the likelihood of gang involvement – schools should be given the right support to adopt an inclusive ethos. An evaluation into our work supporting young people exploited through county lines has found that all of the young people we are supporting are not in mainstream education which was a key driver for exploitation.
The need for proper funding and joined up approach – St Giles Trust recognises that a lot of work has been done by Government to tackle gangs and serious violence and that it has been prioritised the Home Office. As the Children’s Commissioner report alludes, a cross departmental approach is required involving education, health and housing to help tackle some of the underlying issues driving gang involvement.