Children moving from primary school to secondary school could be at risk of criminal exploitation, according to charity St Giles.
652,845 young children are set to make the leap to secondary education in England this autumn1. Going to ‘big school’ marks a rite of passage for many and everything is new – a new uniform, a new route to school, new teachers and new friends.
For most, it is a very exciting experience, but can also be a worrying one with lots of changes one as they go from being the oldest children in school to being the youngest.
Research indicates that particular groups of children are more likely to struggle with the transition than others2. This includes children with special educational needs and disability, limited parental support, being in care, anxiety and experience of being bullied.
For those who find the change difficult, there are great risks of being exploited. Gangs can deliberately target young people, particularly new starters, to recruit them to become child drug couriers working through county lines. Alongside drugs, other illegal economies such as human and sex trafficking are also implicated in county lines.
An estimated 27,000 young people are involved in gangs across the UK who have not been identified by services and some 100,000 children are already slipping through gaps in social care and education and are in direct danger of being targeted by criminals3.
Charity St Giles, who help vulnerable young people, has seen many young people become trapped in child criminal exploitation.
Last year St Giles staff helped 4,500 young people access positive opportunities, to decrease their risk of criminal exploitation. Of those, over a thousand – 1704 – were directly engaged with Chid Criminal Exploitation CCE services, a 53% increase on the previous year.
The charity has been working with youngsters involved in county lines through long-established programmes to help young people exit gangs and serious violence. Their approach is to use professionally trained staff who have direct first-hand ‘lived experience’ of county lines and similar issues, using a mix of their professional skills and personal insights.
Junior Smart OBE, Founder of the SOS Project at St Giles, which helps young people involved in gangs, county lines and serious violence, said:
“Research overwhelmingly identifies the transition from primary school to secondary as a period when vulnerable children need more help. For the most at risk, support lost to the Covid-19 crisis could lead to lasting disadvantage without our intervention.
Our SOS+ team work hard to deliver sessions in schools around issues such as knife crime, gangs and drugs to ensure that children have an understanding of these issues and can steer clear.
We set them up with a clear space, a safe space where nothing can be not talked about. We don’t employ scare tactics – we simply use our specially trained young facilitators to encourage discussions, explore situations and consequences and build tools and strategies they can use if they encounter any threats.
Leaving childhood and entering adolescence is always a challenging time but they are precious years. We want to ensure every child is able to look back on them with happy memories”.
St Giles carries out prevention work across England and Wales providing specialist services helping young people out of county lines and other forms of CCE.(Child Criminal Exploitation).
Follow the charity’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages4 for updates on the work around exploitation and further information and advice on how to stay safe.
St Giles carries out its work thanks to the support of voluntary donations alongside the Home Office, which has already invested £25million into tackling county lines exploitation across the UK. The Mayor of London is also providing county lines interventions for young people across the capital through partnering with St Giles on a Rescue and Response service.
- Schools, pupils and their characteristics, Academic Year 2020/21 – Explore education statistics – GOV.UK (explore-education-statistics.service.gov.uk)
- Transitions : Mentally Healthy Schools and https://nuffieldfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/STARS_report.pdf
3 ‘Still not safe’ The public response to youth violence: cco-still-not-safe.pdf (childrenscommissioner.gov.uk)