Young Brits Groomed And Killed Because System Fails Them, Damning Report Finds

It outlined "horror stories" of young people being chased in broad daylight by teenagers waving machetes.
Posed Picture Of A Man In A Hoodie Holding A Knife. (Photo by John Phillips/UK Press via Getty Images)
Posed Picture Of A Man In A Hoodie Holding A Knife. (Photo by John Phillips/UK Press via Getty Images)
John Phillips via Getty Images

Thousands of young people are being groomed, harmed and “even killed” because systems are failing them, a scathing report has found.

Primary school children are running drugs for gangs and teenagers are heading up county lines operations, according to the former children’s commissioner.

Anne Longfield is now calling on the government to create “Sure Start Plus” - a national plan to stop teenagers getting involved in gangs and violence.

Her report, Hidden In Plain Sight, warns of a crisis putting hundreds of thousands of children at risk in England.

Younger children are being targeted by gangs as well as children from typically middle class backgrounds, with social media used to lure them.

Former children's commissioner for England Anne Longfield.
Former children's commissioner for England Anne Longfield.
Russell Sach/Children's Commissioner for England via PA Media

The report said a combination of Covid, a cost-of-living crisis, and any return to austerity would be a “gift” to those who exploit children.

Longfield, who heads up the Commission on Young Lives, said: “There are parts of our country where the state is completely failing in its duty to protect vulnerable children from the ongoing epidemic of county lines, criminal exploitation, and serious violence.”

She described a housing estate where residents were being “terrorised” by a gang of drug dealing 14 year olds who wear balaclavas and “dish out acts of violence”.

“They carried knives and other weapons, which in turn was encouraging other young people in the area to carry knives for protection,” her foreword said.

“What is happening on this estate may sound like an extreme example, but it is far from unique.

“Speak to youth workers in our towns and cities and they will tell you their own horror stories: of young people being chased in broad daylight by other teenagers waving machetes, of homes where the young people involved in the drugs trade are the main breadwinner in the family, of communities where organised criminals seek out and groom very vulnerable children who have fallen through gaps in the care, health, or education systems, almost with impunity.”

She said there were parts of the country where the state was “completely failing” in its duty to protect vulnerable children.

“So often these are already the most marginalised families. So often they are black, brown and minority ethnic. So often they are poor.”

However, she said the epidemic of country lines was not limited to inner cities, adding: “I have heard countless examples of children from suburban, middle-class England being groomed by criminals.”

Government figures covering 2021-22 show there were 11,600 instances where gangs were a factor and 10,140 instances where child criminal exploitation was a factor in assessments of children in need – which the commission believes is the tip of the iceberg.

Estimates suggest there could be as many as 200,000 children in England aged 11 to 17 who are vulnerable to serious violence.

Those most at risk are teenagers growing up in poverty, in deprived areas, and they are disproportionately from black, brown and minority ethnic backgrounds.

The commission warned that social care, education, family support, and children’s mental health systems were failing thousands of vulnerable teenagers and costing billions.

They said Sure Start Plus programmes could be partly financed by the millions of pounds recovered from the proceeds of crime every year.

They would initially be placed in the areas of greatest need and bring local services together to provide bespoke services for families and children who need it.

They are named after the New Labour “Sure Start” programme aimed at giving children the best start in life that was then scrapped by the Tory government.

The Commission suggested a one off £1 billion children and young people’s mental health recovery programme, part-financed by a levy on social media companies and mobile phone providers.

And they also called for the government to hold regular Cobra meetings to tackle the scourge of serious violence.

Labour’s shadow education secretary, Bridget Phillipson, said the Conservatives were failing children.

“12 years of Conservative neglect has eroded the systems that keep children safe and that put young people on the path to fulfilling futures, blighting lives and costing taxpayers in the process,” she said.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Safety from abuse, neglect and exploitation is a fundamental right for every child. Local authorities are responsible for protecting vulnerable children and we have made an additional £4.8 billion available to them up to 2025 to deliver key services.

“We are investing more than £1 billion to improve early help services, through a network of Family Hubs, programmes supporting thousands of families to stay together safely, support with their mental health and providing healthy food and activities during the school holidays. We are also strengthening the links between social care and education and providing targeted support to keep children most at risk of exploitation engaged in their education.”


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