Monday, 2 September 2019

Young people and Gang affiliation - My experiences and Practice Challenges

Photo by Tim Marshall on Unsplash

If your reading this post, it is likely that you work with or have some involvement in working with children and young people. Social worker, teacher, parent or concerned citizen, you all play a vital role in keeping children and young people safe.

Of late in my own practice, I have come across more and more children and young people associating with gangs. What I have learnt thus far is that the term "Gang", doesn't just stop at a group of people making a name for themselves. No, it often involves much more such as; drugs, weapons and crime. It frightens me to think about our children and young people getting involved in such behaviours that puts them at significant risk of harm; everything that The Children Act 1989 tells us to prevent.

Therefore the purpose of this blog, is to highlight some important facts and figures around gang culture and young people in our care. I have also found some useful information online and I've attached all of the links below for further information.

A better place then any to start, is that of a definition of what is a gang?
The Met police give a very clear guide to what it means to be a gang:

What is a gang?
  • A gang is usually considered to be a group of people who spend time in public places that see themselves (and are seen by others) as a noticeable group
  • engage in a range of criminal activity and violence.
  • They may also have any or all of the following features
  • identify with or lay a claim over territory 
  • are in conflict with other, similar gangs"(Met Police, 2019)
Photo by Andrei Lazarev on Unsplash

Why do young people get involved in gangs?
This is a valid question to ask and for some, you will already know the reasons. One of the main values a gang holds is, it is like a family. There are hierarchies in gangs but, everyone has a place and a role to play. With this value at the core, young people get a sense of belonging and identity. "These people want me", "I am special here", "they are nice to me and give me what I want" "they've got my back". Sometimes young people are longing to be accepted so badly, they don't worry about the consequences or risks they face.

Another reason why a young person may get involved with gangs, is safety, especially if they have fallen out with someone close. Gangs offer protection to one another as they hold that family value.

Money is also another reason for joining a gang.

"Looked after children are particularly vulnerable to being affected by gangs and serious youth violence as they may have low self-esteem, low resilience, attachment issues and the fact that they are often isolated from family and friends" (LCSB, 2017)

My own experience of working with Looked after children and gangs, are more so those whom have experienced a number of placement breakdowns. It's that negative experience and thoughts of "no one wants me" and "they've given up on me too", that drives young people closer to their friends or gangs.  It is not uncommon for children and young people to sabotage their placements and cause a placement breakdown just so they can reject the carers, before the carers reject them.

What are the signs to look for?
  • Young people withdraw from family
  • Dropping out of school/ poor attendance?
  • No longer attending extra curricular clubs; sports or dance groups etc? 
  • Signs that drugs may be involved
  • Breaking rules/ aggression
  • In trouble with the police
  • Do they have items you've never seen before; new clothes, jewellery, phones? (possible grooming)
  • staying out late?
  • Additional money but no explanation as to where? (possible grooming)
  • Are they wearing a mark or a symbol that is linked to a specific gang?
  • injuries with no explanation? 

Stats: What are we really look at here? 
The BBC published a report in February 2019 which indicated the following:
  • 27,000 children are in a gang (England) 
  • 313,000 children KNOW a gang member
  • 6560 Children Identified gang members
  • Metropolitan Police holds a database known as the Gangs Matrix, containing names of between 3-4,000 "persons of interest" at any one time.
  • "one in every 500 violent crimes recorded by the Met Police was tagged as gang-related"
  • "Since 2010, 15% of homicides in the capital have been linked to gangs".

Photo by Jimmy Ofisia on Unsplash

How can we keep children and young people safe?
  • Be open and honest with them, but be sure to know your facts first. 
  • ask questions, but try to avoid accusing them. 
  • Listen to what they have to say and avoid interrupting. This may lead them to shut down from you further. 
  • talk through the risks and consequences with them. Ask them how this may impact their life longer term (criminal records reduce job prospects, knock on effect is less money, could lead to housing issues?)
  • Don't be afraid to ask what it is that YOU can do to help?
  • Try to formulate a plan together, what is the next step? 
  • If you are concerned for their immediate danger, call the police. 
  • If in social work, Notify your manager and safeguarding lead. 
  • You may want to call a professionals meeting/ Strategy meeting (multi agency)/ get the police on board, to ascertain the facts and complete risk assessments. 
  • consider legal advice
  • consider Child Protection Plan. 

Additional information and references can be found at:


Met Police:


BBC Report:

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