The government must act to protect vulnerable children excluded from school and exploited by criminal gangs warns children’s charity, Just for Kids Law
A new report by the charity highlights how vulnerable children are being excluded from school for behaviour resulting from being criminally exploited by gangs and drugs traffickers.
A spokesman for the charity said many children in the youth justice system have been excluded from school at some point with data from the prisons inspectorate showing that more than eight out of 10 children in custody have been excluded.
Evidence from casework at Just for Kids Law shows that a significant proportion of these have been excluded because they have been the victims of child criminal exploitation (CCE). And groomed into criminal activity, often into ‘county lines’ drug trafficking, which involves children and young people being used to transport drugs into different parts of the country.
The charity said unscrupulous gang leaders deliberately target children who have been excluded from school and are on the streets. Without the protections, mainstream school affords, these children are inevitability more vulnerable.
In some cases, Just for Kids Law has found that criminal exploiters purposefully engineer a young person’s exclusion, making them easier to control.
The report from the charity, based on its casework with vulnerable children over many years, includes the stories of young people for whom exclusion was a tipping point into exploitation at a moment when they could have been protected from harm.
It highlights the fact that there is currently no legal safeguard for young people from school exclusion linked to criminal exploitation which means they can be forced to leave school for behaviour that directly resulted from their exploitation.
In the criminal courts, a child or young person may have a defence in law to forced criminal behaviour if it resulted from exploitation. This worrying gap in protection leaves excluded children at risk of falling into the control of criminals seeking to exploit them and puts their future, welfare and safety in danger.
Just for Kids Law is calling for schools to urgently change their approach to child criminal exploitation so that it always focuses on doing everything possible to safeguard and protect a child.
It is urging the government to change statutory guidance to reduce the risk that victims of criminal exploitation will be excluded and protect the children most vulnerable to exploitation.
The report comes after children have been out of school for six months due to the Covid-19 pandemic and warns that some may have been targeted and exploited during this time.
There is also widespread concern of a spike in exclusions in September as schools struggle to reintegrate children who have experienced trauma or a lack of support for additional needs back into education when they reopen.
This would result in more children out of mainstream school and at risk of criminal exploitation.
Photo Credit – Pixabay