A new report by Just for Kids Law highlights how vulnerable children are being excluded from school for behaviour resulting from being criminally exploited by gangs and drugs traffickers.
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 8 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.
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 defense 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.
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. 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.’
Mark (23)*, strongly believes that social isolation was the root cause of him getting groomed into county lines activity. He said that his exclusion was “the tipping point”. He believes that if he had not been excluded, he would never have been criminally exploited. What led to the exploitation was the fact that, once he was excluded, he was completely alone; the school had “washed their hands” of him and were not concerned of what he was doing now his time under their supervision had ended. He also did not have friends he could reach out to during particularly low moments during his exclusion. He felt like he had no one.
*His name has been changed.
- The report ‘Excluded, exploited, forgotten: Childhood criminal exploitation and school exclusions’ is online at www.justforkidslaw.org.
- Just for Kids Law is a UK charity that works with and for children and young people to hold those with power to account and fight for wider reform by providing legal representation and advice, direct advocacy and support, and campaigning to ensure children and young people in the UK have their legal rights and entitlements respected and promoted and their voices heard and valued.
- HM Inspectorate of Prisons, ‘Children in Custody 2017–18: An analysis of 12–18-year-olds’ perceptions of their experiences in secure training centres and young offender institutions’ (2019).
- The Children’s Commissioner for England’s recent report, ‘Putting children first in future lockdowns’ (5th August 2020) sets out the key actions needed to ensure that children are at the heart of planning for future lockdowns. The Commissioner highlights the risk that many children will struggle to transition back to school after lockdown. This will likely manifest in poor attendance and challenging behaviour which could result in a spike in school exclusions.
- The DfE has stated its’ intention to update the statutory exclusions guidance this year. Just for Kids Law is calling on the Government to include amendments to reflect appropriate protections for young people who have been victim of, or are vulnerable to becoming victims of, CCE.