Commission looks to 'fight back' against criminals who are preying on children

Former children’s commissioner Anne Longfield has set up a commission which is tasked with developing a national system that can prevent violent criminals from ruthlessly exploiting thousands of children across the country.

Former children’s commissioner Anne Longfield said "we’re making it too easy for these criminals to exploit our kids".

Ms Longfield, who is from Otley, said the UK needs to “fight back hard” with a coordinated approach and stop “the conveyor belt” of children who are being groomed by gangs and coerced into selling drugs and committing serious violence.

She also warned the pandemic has exacerbated this problem as criminals are taking advantage of a growing number of young people who have been affected by isolation, domestic violence, mental health problems and addiction issues during lockdown.

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The Commission on Young Lives, which includes a panel of experts, will spend the next year developing a national system that can provide vulnerable children with support, keep them in school and prevent them from becoming involved in crime.

Former children’s commissioner Anne Longfield

The commission says this issue affects children from a wide range of backgrounds and when it recently polled 1,003 parents, 60 per cent said they are concerned their child could become involved in serious violence and 52 per cent said the Government is not prioritising the prevention of youth violence.

Ms Longfield said: “The problem has gotten worse and gangs have gotten more sophisticated and brutal. In my view, we’re in danger of thinking, in some areas, that this is just the norm.

“I don’t think it has to be like that. I think we’re making it too easy for these criminals to exploit our kids, and that we have to fight back hard.

“This is almost a shadow pandemic that these kids have been experiencing over the last 18 months. A toxic mix of factors that have made them much more vulnerable, and the ruthlessness and determination of the criminals who want to use them as commodities is just almost unthinkable.

“We are talking here about tens of thousands of children who are potentially vulnerable.”

She added: “Often the criminals will be looking for children who won't be the first to get caught and that can include middle class kids.”

“They'll be in touch with the ones that are already using and buying the drugs themselves, and they instantly have something they can hold over them.”

Ms Longfield also said there are a range of projects which aim to protect children from exploitation but they are “quite small scale and disjointed” and a well organised national approach is needed.

Before the pandemic hit in March 2020, gangs were a factor in the referral of almost 15,000 children to social services in the previous year.

The independent commission, which is hosted and supported by the Oasis Charitable Trust, will produce a series of interim reports and a final report in autumn 2022.

Members of the panel include Baroness Louise Casey, Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs Council and Steve Chalke, founder of the Oasis Charitable Trust.