In its recent final report the Commission on Young Lives draws attention to an ‘epidemic of county lines, criminal exploitation and serious violence’ involving children. It says this national problem is ‘hidden in plain sight’ and calls for action.
The Commission on Young Lives highlights recent government statistics which show that in 2021-22 in England there were more than 16,000 occasions where child sexual exploitation was identified as a factor at the end of an assessment by social workers, 11,600 where gangs were a factor and 10,140 when child criminal exploitation was a factor. Estimated figures suggest that up to 200,00 children between 11-17 in England could be vulnerable to serious violence.
The report identifies lack of early intervention and systemic failures relating to children’s social care, mental health services, schools, family support and criminal justice as leading vulnerable young people into being groomed into criminal activity. Anne Longfield CBE, Chair of the Commission on Young Lives said, ‘ A combination of Covid, the cost of living crisis, a possible return to austerity, and the legacy of underfunded and overstretched service will only increase these existing pressures on many vulnerable families and children. It is a gift to those whose aim is to exploit children.’
The centrepiece of the report’s recommendations is the Sure Start Plus national programme, aimed at preventing teenagers from becoming involved in criminal exploitation, gangs, and serious violence. The programme will offer a network of intervention and support, with a target of setting up 1,000 Sure Start Plus hubs by 2027 in and around schools, run by charities, public bodies, business, and philanthropy organisations. It is hoped that this ‘joined up, national programme’ will not only protect and support vulnerable children and their families but will also help improve their educational and life prospects.
Longfield says, ‘After a decade of running-down early help programmes and youth services, a return to investing in children and their families is desperately needed. I make no excuse for arguing for a significant increase in funding for vulnerable children, or for arguing children and families should be placed at the heart of government policy making, whichever party is in power and whatever the economic circumstances. Investment now will save money and save lives in the future’.