Foster carers need to be aware that gangs present a serious risk to children and young people. They have become an entrenched part of the background culture with many adults being unaware of the dynamics of gangs and the dangers they pose. They are fundamental to the problem of county lines. And all children are potentially vulnerable. Foster children can be at increased risk especially if they are struggling with their education and don’t feel they can be part of normal school life. Such young people can hardly be blamed for this as some will have been subject to multiple placement breakdowns. This means they will have moved frequently and not known stability or the security that comes from being accepted. This is why gangs can seem so attractive to vulnerable and lonely children.
Foster the idea that school attendance really matters.
When children are not regularly attending school or have been excluded, gang culture can be magnetic in its attraction. Boredom can mean that it is all too easy for a young person to fall into gang membership. From a certain perspective, this can be understood. Foster parents need to understand that involvement with gangs can give a child or young person the sense they are protected, have some status and therefore an identity. Feelings of friendship and acceptance can seem very real but can be dangerously illusory. Gang culture poses serious risks and has a very dark side. Money, sex, violence and intimidation will almost inevitably be present to varying degrees. These can be used by criminals who have strong links to; and in many cases, control and run gangs. They do this to profit from drug dealing. This has become big business and led to turf wars which can result in violence that increasingly leads to loss of life.
One of the most disturbing features of gang culture is its territorial nature. A lot of young people who are not caught up with gangs will be familiar with the term ‘slipping’. This describes a situation where they might find themselves in an area a particular gang regards as its territory. Just doing this – often mistakenly – can result in being robbed or physically attacked. If a youngster is known to be a gang member and is caught by a member of another gang in their ‘territory’, the consequences can be life-threatening.
Grooming for gangs.
Most people will have heard of the term ‘grooming’. Gangs need members: pressure is exerted by criminals who run gangs to ensure they have a supply of youngsters who can be intimidated into dealing drugs. This is being done in a highly organised way and has been given the term ‘county lines’ by the Home Office which “describes gangs and organised criminal networks involved in exporting illegal drugs into one or more importing areas within the UK, using dedicated mobile phone lines or other forms of “deal line”. They are likely to exploit children and vulnerable adults to move and store the drugs and money and they will often use coercion, intimidation, violence (including sexual violence) and weapons.”
Grooming is the first stage and is done by an existing gang member or members who pretend to care for a young person. It is common for them to provide the ‘initiate’ with money, perhaps an expensive phone or access to sexual activity there are females in the gang. If you are feeling lost and alone and that people are interested in you, it is easy to fall prey to these kinds of tactics. Very soon a youngster will be required to demonstrate loyalty to the gang. This can be done in a number of ways – usually with an element of violence. They might be forced to participate in beating up a rival gang member, committing robbery or participating in a gang rape. Sexual exploitation and intimidation are common to gangs. It is extremely worrying that in England there has been a 200% increase in gang rapes over the last three years.
Gang culture is very much a hidden world far removed from mainstream life. Foster parents and social workers need to be highly vigilant. Children can be on the periphery of a gang without being immediately drawn into it. But the risk is extremely high they will become increasingly involved in more serious activities. This is why it is so important that foster parents are aware of the danger signals. These can initially be quite subtle and easy to miss. Children who suddenly have large amounts of money without being able; or willing to provide an explanation is a key indicator. Changes in mood and general behaviour as well as stopping out late at night should also raise the alarm. Many young people – and foster children can all too easily – conform to a particular template of vulnerability: family break-down, rejection, despair, and lack of hope are its main elements.
Foster parents need to be aware of the role of social media.
Social media plays a part in all this. It’s used to communicate as well as to intimidate. Youth workers have witnessed a dramatic rise in online arguments amongst pupils and gang members. These can quickly escalate to violence -especially as rival gangs use social media to goad each other. Craig Pinkney is a youth worker and criminology lecturer worried that the government has not modernised its approach in relation to dealing with youth violence and gang culture. And writing in 2018 he stated –
“The government should consider funding programmes that educate youth workers on social media because lots of people are still using the same ideas they did in 2001 and 2005 and they are presenting them in 2017, when the scope has changed – if there is a fight outside school now, for example, the chances are that social media has been involved and we help professionals understand that.”
Because the situation is becoming increasingly serious, the Home Office has gone on the record stating –
“We are aware that gangs make use of a number of social media platforms and we work closely with the police to identify good practice in tackling this issue. For example, Operation Domain is an ongoing Metropolitan police project aimed at collating all the gang-related content from social media and working with Google to remove relevant videos and materials from YouTube.”
More information on gangs can be found at https://www.catch-22.org.uk/offers/gangs/
Do you have the interest and passion to provide a home for a vulnerable child?
It’s clear that children and young people are growing up in a society that poses many risks. 8,600 new foster families are urgently required. They are needed to offer foster children a safe environment: one where they can be protected from the risks that gangs are currently posing. The most important thing a foster carer can do is to motivate a child to do well at school. To help them develop an interest that can lead to career opportunities. Foster children who engaged in this way – and the same is true of all children – are far less at risk from gangs. Society is becoming a more violent place. Not only can a foster carer offer a child hope and a sense they have a right to be ambitious for their future, but foster carers can then keep them safe and protected along the way. Could there be anything more rewarding than knowing you are giving a child a safe space in which to grow and develop?
To apply to foster with Rainbow is very easy. You do need to be over 21 years of age. And you also have to have a spare room available. This is a pre-requisite for all independent fostering agencies IFAs and local authorities LAs. Discover more by calling 020 8427 3355. Alternatively, you can call us on our National Line 0330 311 2845.
Should you decide to find out more, there is no obligation. Our knowledgable recruitment staff are more than happy to inform you about all the different aspects of fostering to consider. We will arrange a home visit if you decide to continue with your ambition to foster. The entire process of becoming an approved foster carer can take between four to six months. The timescale is dependent upon all checks and references that we seek being made and returned promptly.
Our website features a wide range of information addressing different aspects of foster care. One of our most popular pages is http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/youth-participation/ We also have a news page to visit http://rainbowfostering.co.uk/news/