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Gangs have stepped up recruitment of vulnerable young people during lockdown, report finds

4 June, 2020

Gangs are exploiting the COVID-19 outbreak to groom more vulnerable young people to transport drugs, a new report has found.

The National Youth Agency (NYA) Hidden in Plain Sight report revealed how drug gangs have adapted to lockdown and how they have gone on a “recruitment drive” through social media and cyber grooming.

It suggested that an increasing number of girls are being targeted, as it is easier for them to “move around during lockdown while young men remain very visible”.

With further gang activity and violence being “stoked-up” on social media, it also warned that the UK may see a post-lockdown surge in gang crime – especially as support for at-risk young people has been restricted by COVID-19.

In response to the report, Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said: “Lockdown removed many of the usual ways of identifying children at risk of being exploited by gangs. 

“With the closure of schools and youth centres, thousands of vulnerable young people have simply gone off the radar. As rules are relaxed there will be particular dangers for young people at risk of criminal exploitation.”

In the UK, more than 60,000 young people aged 10 to 17 are either directly involved with a gang or have a gang member in their family.

Building on the findings of the reports, the NYA is now calling on the government to classify professionals working with young people as key workers to make support more available for young people who might be in need of it.

The NYA’s chief executive Leigh Middleton said: “More young people are in potentially unsafe environments with little or no contact and limited access to support services during lockdown. 

“Just at the time when they are needed the most, many youth work projects stopped or become severely restricted due to COVID-19. Now is the time for more youth work, not less.”

Find out more about ‘county lines’ drug gangs and how you can support young people in this article on Parent Info – a website run by Parent Zone in cooperation with NCA-CEOP.

Image: Oleg / Adobe Stock


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