Vulnerable children are being excluded from school for behaviour which stems from being criminally exploited by gangs and drugs traffickers, a children’s charity has warned.
Just for Kids Law states that data from the prisons’ inspectorate shows that more than 8 out of 10 children in custody have been excluded at some point. Evidence from Just for Kids Law casework shows that a significant proportion of these children 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.
Just for Kids Law CEO, Enver Solomon, said: “The systems in place to support young people at risk of exclusion from school are failing, leaving them easy targets for those who seek to coerce and criminally exploit them. The abuse, violence and emotional trauma associated with childhood criminal exploitation (CCE) destroys children’s lives.”
Gang leaders deliberately target children who have been excluded from school and are on the streets because without the protections of mainstream school, 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 even easier to control.
Exclusion can often be seen as a tipping point into exploitation at a moment when children could have been protected from harm, evidence from their case work shows.
The report highlights 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, the charity warns.
The report comes after some children have been out of school for six months due to the Covid-19 pandemic. While schools were open for key workers’ children and vulnerable children, the take up among the latter group was low and therefore some may have been targeted and exploited during this time.
WillisPalmer has raised concerns about vulnerable children being in lockdown and hidden from services for months now. Just For Kids Law warns that 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.
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.
Enver Solomon concluded: “The government must act urgently to introduce safeguards to ensure the welfare of these children is protected, and the influence of their exploiters prevented, so they can move past their experiences and get the education they deserve.”
Excluded, exploited, forgotten: Childhood criminal exploitation and school exclusions