7-year-olds' gang involvement
New research by The Children’s Society reveals that children as young as seven are being used to move drugs for organised gangs.
The report findings, reveal that whilst teenagers are most at risk of exploitation, the targeting of children of primary school age is increasing. The report also states that many police forces and councils are not recording data about children who are exploited and nearly two-thirds of councils do not have a strategy in place for tackling child criminal exploitation.
The charity is calling for independent advocates to help children who are referred using the National Referral Mechanism get the support they need. The report also calls for children to be treated as victims rather than criminals, child criminal exploitation to be defined in law and for more funding for early help.
The Children's Commissioner for England estimates there are at least 46,000 children involved in gang activity. Although boys are believed to be most at risk, one in six children referred as suspected victims are girls. The report found that affluence is not a bar to this type of exploitation. Whilst family breakdown, living in poverty and being excluded from school make children vulnerable, loneliness and wanting to fit in are also risk factors.
Nick Roseveare, The Children’s Society chief executive said: "This shocking report reveals how cowardly criminals are stooping to new lows in grooming young people to do their dirty work and in casting their net wider to reel in younger children. Children are being cynically exploited with the promise of money, drugs, status and affection and controlled using threats, violence and sexual abuse, leaving them traumatised and living in fear.”
He went on to comment that: "the response from statutory agencies is too often haphazard and comes too late and a national strategy is needed to help improve responses to child criminal exploitation.”
ADCS calls for coordinated knife crime strategy
Members of the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) are calling on HM Government to deliver a coordinated and sustainably funded knife crime strategy, to put child protection and safeguarding at the top of the agenda.
The call is in response to a sharp rise in knife related incidents which has left increasing numbers of young people injured or fatally stabbed. The organisation states that doctors are reporting children involved in knife crime being admitted to hospital in school uniform.
A discussion paper published at the ADCS annual conference sets out the need for a strategy which focuses on prevention and a long-term commitment to cultural change.
In a statement, the ADCS said: "A reaffirmation from government of the importance of treating this first and foremost as a child protection and safeguarding concern would be helpful as would a reassertion of the role of the director of children's services as a systems leader."
The ADCS is urging HM Government to recognise that "one-off, time limited funding" which councils have to bid for to tackle complex issues such as knife crime is unsustainable. The paper states that whilst funding alone will not solve the problem, it is an important part of the picture.
In her speech at the annual conference, ADCS president Rachel Dickinson said: "Children tell us they are carrying a knife because they are scared for their safety - it's clear something has to change and fast. Stricter laws, longer sentences and the expansion of police powers alone would not address the underlying social issues which lead some children and communities being more vulnerable to risk or harm in the first place.”
Dickinson also added that lessons could be learnt from youth offending teams, the Troubled Families programme, initiatives such as Prevent and youth work as well as agency responses to child sexual exploitation.
The Home Office announced last month that anti-knife crime lessons would be delivered in schools before the start of the summer holidays. This followed the £1.35m "#knifefree" advertising campaign which featured real stories of young people who decided not to carry a knife in an effort to inspire others to do the same.
Statutory services at risk
A research survey conducted by the Local Government Association (LGA) has found that a third of councils fear funding for statutory services, including child protection, will run out within three years as they face an overall funding gap of more than £3bn by 2020. The findings from the 339 councils who participated also found this number rose to almost two thirds by 2024/25. 17% of the participating councils reported they were not confident they will make the savings they need to in the current financial year.
The report states: "Between 2010 and 2020, councils will have lost 60p out of every £1 they had from central government to run local services. As such, the next Spending Review will be make or break for vital local services and securing the financial sustainability of councils must be the top priority." The report also identifies that the growing demand pressures, particularly for areas such as children's services and special educational needs, had contributed to a predicted funding gap of more than £3bn by next year.
Increase in reporting of online images of sexual abuse
In a speech at the NSPCC annual conference, Home Secretary Sajid Javid has said self-help resources are increasingly being used by people worried about their sexual attitudes towards children and that: "more potential offenders are being stopped before they prey upon children".
The Home Secretary stated that more people are reporting online images of sexual abuse, and more of those who are viewing or considering viewing the images are seeking help. The specialist helpline run by the Lucy Faithfull Foundation, which aims to protect child victims of online abuse, has seen calls increase by nearly 25 per cent in a year and it’s Stop It Now website has also seen a 40 per cent increase in the number of people accessing its resources.
Javid stated: "We know it's working, with independent evaluation showing web users concerned about their behaviour reported increased awareness of the law and positive behaviour changes. So more potential offenders are being stopped before they prey upon children - something we undoubtedly need to see more of."
The news comes as figures released by the NSPCC this week show there are an average of 22 online child sex abuse offences committed every day. UK referrals of child abuse images from industry are also 10 times greater than in 2013. HM Government's education campaign with the Internet Watch Foundation and Marie Collins Foundation have also seen a 72 per cent increase in public reports of indecent images of children online.
The consultation on the Online Harms white paper, which sets out the government's package of online safety measures, closed this week and we will keep you up to date with findings when published.
Private schools encouraged to offer places to vulnerable children
As part of a £500,000 HM Government drive, private schools have been told to open up places and facilities to children in care.
This follows the publication of a HM Government-backed report last year which found that placing vulnerable youngsters at boarding schools can be “significantly more cost-effective” than keeping them in local authority care. Its researchers followed the progress of 52 children over ten years who were either in care or at risk of being taken into care by Norfolk County Council. After being sent to a boarding school, almost 63per cent of the children came off the risk altogether while 71 per cent showed a reduced level of risk.
The minister for children, Nadhim Zahawi, has said he wants private schools: “to play a greater role in helping raise outcomes for these vulnerable children”. This statement comes amid mounting pressure on the country’s most prestigious private schools to step up their efforts to help less well-off pupils.
Three quarters of independent schools in England are registered as charities, which earns them favourable business rates and VAT exemptions on fees. To qualify as a charity, they must demonstrate that they provide “public benefit” to a reasonably wide section of the public, rather than to a narrow group of wealthy individuals.
The latest vulnerability reports were published last week by the Children’s Commissioner Office, showing that 2.3m children in England are at risk due to family circumstances.
Ofsted have published the last school inspection update, the last before inspectors begin to inspect under the new education inspection framework (EIF) from September 2019.
Amanda Spielman’s speech at the National Governance Association discussed the response to the consultation on the EIF and what it means for governors.
Amanda Spielman’s speech at the Wellington Festival of Education discussed education’s role in preparing young people for life in modern Britain.
Ofsted repeated the call for outstanding school exemption to be lifted as more schools lose the highest Ofsted grading. Only 16% of outstanding primary and secondary schools inspected this academic year retained their top Ofsted rating, according to official statistics.
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