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Children Affected by Gang Activity or Serious Youth Violence


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Definition
Risks
Indicators
Protection and Action to be Taken
Issues
Further Information


Definition

Defining a gang is difficult, however it can be broadly described as a relatively durable, predominantly street-based group of children who see themselves (and are seen by others) as a discernible group for whom crime and violence is integral to the group's identity. Its range of activities can extend from organised crime, through a more typical street gang to a peer or friendship group.

Children may be involved in more than one 'gang', with some cross-border movement, and may not stay in a 'gang' for significant periods of time. Children rarely use the term 'gang', instead they used terms such as 'family', 'breddrin', 'crews', 'cuz' (cousins), 'my boys' or simply 'the people I grew up with'.


Risks

The risk or potential risk of harm to the child may be as a victim, a perpetrator or both - in relation to their peers or to a gang-involved adult in their household.

A child who is affected by gang activity or serious youth violence can be at risk of significant harm through physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

Violence is a way for gang members to gain recognition and respect by asserting their power and authority in the street, with a large proportion of street crime perpetrated against members of other gangs or the relatives of gang members.

The specific risks for males and females may be quite different. There is a higher risk of sexual abuse for females and they are more likely to have been coerced into involvement with a gang through peer pressure than their male counterparts.

There is evidence of a high incidence of rape of girls who are involved with gangs. Some senior gang members pass their girlfriends around to lower ranking members and sometimes to the whole group at the same time. Very few rapes by gang members are reported.

Gang members often groom girls at school using drugs and alcohol, which act as disinhibitors and also create dependency, and encourage / coerce them to recruit other girls through school / social networks.


Indicators

  • Child withdrawn from family;
  • Sudden loss of interest in school. Decline in attendance or academic achievement (although it should be noted that some gang members will maintain a good attendance record to avoid coming to notice);
  • Being emotionally ‘switched off’, but also containing frustration / rage;
  • Starting to use new or unknown slang words;
  • Holding unexplained money or possessions;
  • Staying out unusually late without reason, or breaking parental rules consistently;
  • Sudden change in appearance – dressing in a particular style or ‘uniform’ similar to that of other young people they hang around with, including a particular colour;
  • Dropping out of positive activities;
  • New nickname;
  • Unexplained physical injuries, and/or refusal to seek / receive medical treatment for injuries;
  • Graffiti style ‘tags’ on possessions, school books, walls;
  • Constantly talking about another young person who seems to have a lot of influence over them;
  • Breaking off with old friends and hanging around with one group of people;
  • Associating with known or suspected gang members, closeness to siblings or adults in the family who are gang members;
  • Starting to adopt certain codes of group behaviour e.g. ways of talking and hand signs;
  • Expressing aggressive or intimidating views towards other groups of young people, some of whom may have been friends in the past;
  • Being scared when entering certain areas; and
  • Concerned by the presence of unknown youths in their neighbourhoods.

An important feature of gang involvement is that, the more heavily a child is involved with a gang, the less likely they are to talk about it.


Protection and Action to be Taken

Any agency or practitioner who has concerns that a child may be at risk of harm as a consequence of gang activity should make a MASH Enquiry or contact the States of Jersey Police.

Support and interventions should be proportionate, rational and based on the child’s needs identified during the assessment.

A Child in Need Assessment should be led by a qualified social worker and evidence and information sharing across all relevant agencies will be key. It may be appropriate for the social worker to be embedded in or work closely with, a team, which has access to ‘real time’ gang intelligence in order to undertake a reliable assessment. 

Practitioners should be aware that children who are Looked After by the State of Jersey can be particularly vulnerable to becoming involved in gangs. There may be a need to review their Care Plan in light of the assessment and to provide additional support.

Children may be in fear of ending their contact with the gang because it might leave them vulnerable to reprisals those from former gang members and rival gang members who may see the young person as without protection.

Information and local knowledge about the specific gang should be shared, including the use, or suspected use, of weapons. There should also be consideration of possible risk to members of the child’s family and other children in the community.

Unless there are indications that parental involvement would risk further harm to the child, parents should be involved as early as possible where there are concerns about gang activity.


Issues

Children involved in gangs are very likely to be previously known to other services for offending behaviour or school exclusion.

Children may often be at the periphery of involvement for some time before they become active gang members. Children may also follow older siblings into gang involvement. There are often opportunities for preventative work to be undertaken with children.


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