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What role do schools play in protecting our youth from county lines?

Seema Dosaj, managing partner at Berris Law, discusses what schools can do to cut the ties between young people and county line gangs.

The early 2020s has already seen a dramatic rise in violent crime. 2021 saw 30 cases of murder amongst teenagers, on the streets of London alone, with 40 youths being charged with killings.

As part of a 10-year strategy to tackle drug trafficking and gang crime, the government has pledged £780m to tackle county line gangs and drug misuse in England. However, there is an argument to be made that enough isn’t being done, with crime rates surpassing their previous peak of 2008 which saw 29 young people murdered.

Can schools and education facilities do more to protect teenagers from violent crime, and how can the UK be made a better home for young people?

Who is being impacted?
Social issues, such as gang culture and drug misuse, are by no means a new phenomenon. Many young people have been affected before the current young generation. However, today’s youths must also deal with how far-reaching gangs have become.

With the assistance of mobile phones, social media and the internet, gang recruitment is much easier, allowing for instant communication with multiple people across the country. This puts many more people at risk of becoming victims of gang grooming and being in contact with criminal activity.

Despite a lack of media attention, county line issues are a big problem nationwide. Police forces across the country have reported a surge in violent crime due to drug trafficking in areas from big cities to the rural countryside. It has become a common belief that this kind of activity only happens in low-income families in urban, built-up areas, but this simply is not the case, and can affect anyone, regardless of class and location.

Recent research has pointed to a number of factors, which can lead to an increased chance of someone being involved in criminal activity. While these factors can involve the more obvious, more spoken about factors (e.g. parental criminality, drug and alcohol misuse, and housing deprivation) which tend to point the finger at low-income households, we as a society need to realise that the factors do not stop here.

Poor parental supervision, bullying and mental health are just a fraction of the less talked about factors which can lead to substance abuse and gang-related activity. These factors can (and do) affect any one regardless of class or location.

Why is crime amongst teenagers so high?
If valuable and equal opportunities were given to all children across the country through state funding and investments, more young people would grow up with strong education and values, leading to good and fulfilling jobs. In turn, they would not only provide more taxes to the public sector in the long run, but also lead to future parents providing their own children with good education and core values. This would minimise the risk of exploitation from gangs and criminals of vulnerable young people, giving teenagers a safer environment to grow up in.

Therefore, if efficiently funded by the state, a new cycle generating law-abiding, tax-paying members of the community, who in turn will raise their own children to grow up the same, producing order, stability and productivity across the board.

However, with recent cuts in funds, this cycle has been thrown out of balance, with children not receiving equal opportunities throughout the country. Instead many children are lacking quality education and safe home environments. Without effective role models, strong values are not being created and the ability to deal with mental health issues is not being fully developed.

This can lead to teenagers falling into gangs for stability and community, with grooming techniques targeting self-worth. This in turn leads to higher crime rates, higher drug misuse and higher murder rates across the UK.

This emphasises the fact that in order to reach stability and safety for everybody, we need to create a new system for the wellbeing of teenagers. When one part of the cycle is dysfunctional, more and more social issues arise, which shows that we must promote social change if we want things to improve.

What can be done to help?
The first of many options that can be taken to provoke change is a national effort to reduce poverty and improve living conditions. As mentioned previously, it is not just low-income households who commit crime. However, most street crime is caused by the poor or near poor due to a lack of opportunities.

The government has a chance to intervene by creating decent-paying jobs to counter low incomes, while also providing more opportunities for young people such as improving sports facilities and social clubs. The improvement of schools and educational systems through funding and investments can also help benefit the community.

A move towards smaller class sizes could provide more one-to-one education time to help provide young people with good role models and strong values. This will lead to an improvement in student academic achievement, which will work in tandem with the increase in opportunities given to young people. By tackling poverty, we can start to improve the lives of people in our communities, making them less susceptible to the reach of gang influence.

Schools and colleges can also do their part in promoting education and awareness around gangs, drugs and other criminal activity. Online safety is often taught with ‘stranger danger’ being the forefront of issues, but does not necessarily tackle gang grooming, or what to do if a familiar person is promoting criminal activity or pressuring a young person to do something.

Class discussions and workshops targeting what county lines are and how a child can identify if they are being targeted would be beneficial, as well as showing children and teenagers that they have someone to talk with and trust within a school or college. Schools can be a great place to identify any vulnerable people, and make them feel safe, informed, and listened to on these matters.

This is not to say that schools and teachers are not doing an amazing job at helping vulnerable people, but schools can only do so much as a child will also spend many hours with influences outside of school. Therefore, further funding towards youth services must be increased.

These centres have been in rapid decline since 2007 due to a lack of investment. Having a third-party support centre can be a huge help to a teenager as they have more options of people to talk to.

In increasing funds to both educational and social institutes and gearing them up to help vulnerable teenagers, we can begin to turn the tides on crime rates and make the young generations feel safe and grow up to make a better world for those who come after them.

This article was published in Independent Education Today

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