PG19. Gang Activity / Serious Youth Violence

For a record of all amendments and updates, see the Amendments & Archives.

Specific definitions of key concepts used by safeguarding practitioners are available through the Glossary.


This chapter was revised in March 2023. Further Information was updated. A link to the Prevent National Referral Form was added into paragraph 7.1.

1. Introduction

Caption: Introduction table


There are a number of areas in which young people are put at risk by gang activity, both through participation in and as victims of gang violence which can be in relation to their peers or to a gang-involved adult in their household.


A child who is affected by gang activity or serious youth violence may have suffered, or may be likely to suffer, significant harm through physical, sexual and emotional abuse or neglect. See Recognising Abuse and Neglect Procedure.

Significant harm is defined in Responding to Concerns of Abuse and Neglect Procedure, Concept of significant harm as a situation where a child is suffering, or is likely to suffer, a degree of physical, sexual and / or emotional harm (through abuse or neglect), which is so harmful that there needs to be compulsory intervention by child protection services.

2. Definition of a Gang

Caption: Definition of a Gang


Groups of children often gather together in public places to socialise, and peer association is an essential feature of most children's transition to adulthood. Groups of children can be disorderly and/or anti-social without engaging in criminal activity.


Defining a gang is difficult, however it can be broadly described as a relatively durable, predominantly street-based group of children who see themselves (and are seen by others) as a discernible group for whom crime and violence is integral to the group's identity.


Children may be involved in more than one 'gang', with some cross-border movement, and may not stay in a 'gang' for significant periods of time. Children rarely use the term 'gang', instead they used terms such as 'family', 'breddrin', 'crews', 'cuz' (cousins), 'my boys' or simply 'the people I grew up with'.


Definitions may need to be highly specific to particular areas or neighbourhoods if they are to be useful. Furthermore, professionals should not seek to apply this or any other definition of a gang too rigorously; if a child or others think s/he is involved with or affected by 'a gang', then a professional should act accordingly.


Violence is a way for gang members to gain recognition and respect by asserting their power and authority in the street, with a large proportion of street crime perpetrated against members of other gangs or the relatives of gang members.


Youth violence, serious or otherwise, may be a function of gang activity. However, it could equally represent the behaviour of a child acting individually in response to his or her particular history and circumstances.


The Metropolitan Police Service defines serious youth violence as is 'any offence of most serious violence or weapon enabled crime, where the victim is aged 1-19' i.e. murder, manslaughter, rape, wounding with intent and causing grievous bodily harm. 'Youth violence' is defined in the same way, but also includes assault with injury offences.


The factors which influence a child's propensity to initiate violence include:

  • Parenting which is cold / uncaring, non-nurturing and neglectful;
  • Parenting which includes harsh disciplining;
  • Maltreatment, such as physical or sexual abuse in childhood (abuse by adults and peers within and outside of the family); and/or
  • Trauma such as domestic abuse or involvement in or witnessing conflict violence (see also Domestic Abuse Procedure).


One factor which influences a child's propensity to imitate violence is:

  • Parenting which is permissive and neglectful, resulting in a lack of guidance and creating ineffectiveness and poor self-control for a child. The child is then not equipped to resist an environment or group which instigates violence.

Gang Injunctions

2.10 "Gang injunctions offer local partners a way to intervene and to engage a young person aged 14-17 with positive activities, with the aim of preventing further involvement in gangs, violence and/or gang-related drug dealing activity" (Home Office).
2.11 The Serious Crime Act 2015) amended the Crime and Security Act 2010 to extend this provision from 18 years and to include children and young people (14 -17 year olds). Gang injunctions also now covers drug dealing activity" as well as "violence" including the threat of violence. Applications should focus on gang related behaviour that may lead to violence, and not other problematic antisocial behaviour.

In order to make a gang injunction, the court must be satisfied that the respondent has engaged in, encouraged or assisted gang-related violence or drug dealing activity. In addition, the court must then be satisfied that:

  • The gang injunction is necessary to prevent the respondent from engaging in, encouraging or assisting gang-related violence or drug dealing activity; and/or
  • The gang injunction is necessary to protect the respondent from gang related violence or drug taking activity.

3. Community and Family Circumstances

Caption: Community and Family Circumstances


Circumstances which can foster the emergence of gangs include:

  • Areas with a high level of social and economic exclusion and mobility (which weakens the ties of kinship and friendship and the established mechanisms of informal control and social support);
  • Areas made up of predominantly social housing, and especially where it is high rise / high density social housing. There is a perfect correlation in London with 'gang neighbourhoods' and being amongst the 20% most deprived government lower level super output areas (based on the Indices of Multiple Deprivation 2007);
  • Areas with poor performing schools - in terms of leadership, positive ethos, managing behaviour and partnership working;
  • Lack of access to pro-social activities (e.g. youth service) and to vocational training and opportunities;
  • Communities who have experienced war situations prior to arrival in the UK;
  • Areas with a high level of gang activity / peer pressure and intimidation, particularly if the family is denying this or is in fear of the gangs; and
  • Family members involved in gang activity and criminality.


Many parents are aware of the widespread perception that the gang problem is ultimately a product of poor parenting and that the solution lies in assuming responsibility for their children. However, they feel unable either to control or to protect their children.



Fear and a need for self-protection is a key motivation for children to carry a weapon - it affords a child a feeling of power. Neighbourhoods with high levels of deprivation and social exclusion generally have the highest rates of gun and knife crime. Children are more likely to carry knives and other weapons than guns.


Professionals working with children who may have reason to be fearful in their neighbourhood or school / FE college should be alert to the possibility that a child may carry a weapon. See Managing work with Families where there are obstacles and resistance Procedure. Keeping professionals safe and Managing work with Families where there are obstacles and resistance Procedure Management responsibility, and Roles and Responsibilities Procedure, Screening and searching pupils for weapons in schools.

Knife Crime Prevention Orders

3.5 Knife Crime Prevention Orders (KCPOs) are preventative civil orders designed to be an additional tool that the police can use to work with young people and others to help steer them away from knife crime and serious violence by using positive requirements to address factors in their lives that may increase the chances of offending, alongside measures to prohibit certain activities to help prevent future offending.
.3.6 KCPOs require a multi-agency approach. The police will need to work with relevant organisations and community groups to support those who are issued with a KCPO by the courts, to steer them away from crime.
3.7 The intention is that the orders will focus specifically on those most at risk of being drawn into knife crime and serious violence, to provide them with the support they need to turn away from violence.

The focus is therefore on providing preventative interventions, rather than on punitive measures. The availability and range of positive requirements will vary between local areas. Examples include:

  • Educational courses;
  • Life skills programmes;
  • Sporting participation – such as membership of sporting clubs or participation in group sports;
  • Awareness raising courses;
  • Targeted intervention programmes;
  • Relationship counselling;
  • Drug rehabilitation programmes;
  • Anger management classes;
  • Mentoring.
3.9 KCPOs can be sought for any individual aged 12 upwards. The aim is to prevent the most at- risk or vulnerable individuals from becoming involved in knife possession and knife crime. It is the intention that KCPOs issued to under 18s should be subject to more scrutiny than those issued to adults (for example, through more regular reviews) and will be subject to consultation with youth offending teams.

Girls and sexual exploitation


There is evidence of a high incidence of rape of girls who are involved with gangs. Some senior gang members pass their girlfriends around to lower ranking members and sometimes to the whole group at the same time. Very few rapes by gang members are reported,


Gang members often groom girls at school using drugs and alcohol, which act as disinhibitors and also create dependency, and encourage / coerce them to recruit other girls through school / social networks.


See also Sexual Exploitation Procedure; and Safeguarding Trafficked and Sexually Exploited Children Procedure.

4. Organised Criminal Groups

Caption: Organised Criminal Groups


An Organised criminal group is a group of individuals normally led by adults for whom involvement in crime is for personal gain (financial or otherwise). This involves serious and organised criminality by a core of violent gang members who exploit vulnerable young people and adult. This may also involve the movement and selling of drugs and money across the country, known as 'county lines' because it extends across county boundaries. It is a tactic used by groups or gangs to facilitate the selling of drugs in an area outside of the area in which they live, often coordinated by mobile phone and reducing their risk of detection. It almost exclusively involves violence, intimidation and the offer of money or drugs. Young people can become indebted to gang/groups and exploited in order to pay off debts. Young people may be going missing and travelling to market or seaside towns often by rail but sometimes car or coach. They may have unexplained increases in money or possessions. Young men and women may be at risk of sexual exploitation in these groups.


There is a distinction between organised crime groups and street gangs based on the level of criminality, organisation, planning and control, however, there are significant links between different levels of gangs. Activity can include street gangs involvement in drug dealing on behalf of organised criminal groups and the sexual abuse of girls and boys by organised criminal groups.

National Crime Agency report County Lines Gang Violence, Exploitation and Drug Supply.

5. Professional Response

Caption: Professional Response


See also Harmful Behaviour Procedure and Risk Management of Known Offenders Procedure.


Professionals should always take what the child tells them seriously. They should assess this together with the child's presenting behaviours in the context of whatever information they know or can gather from the child about the risk factors described in the risk assessment framework for children affected by gangs and serious youth violence.


Potentially a child involved with a gang or with serious violence could be both a victim and a perpetrator. This requires professionals to assess and support his/her welfare and well-being needs at the same time as assessing and responding in a criminal justice capacity.


Local authorities are recommended to nominate a local professional who can develop specialist knowledge in relation to gangs and serious youth violence to act as an adviser to other professionals in cases where there are concerns that a child is/could be affected by gangs and/or serious youth violence.


If a professional is concerned that a child is at risk of harm as a victim or a perpetrator of serious youth violence, gang-related or not, the professional should:

  • Wherever possible, consult with their agency's designated safeguarding children professional, their manager and, if available, the local multi-agency gang intelligence forum and/or professional with specialist knowledge in relation to gangs;
  • Consider Harmful Behaviour Procedure; and
  • If the threshold is met for significant harm, then a referral must be made to local authority children's social care, in line with the Referral and Assessment Procedure.

Looked after children


Looked after children are particularly vulnerable to being affected by gangs and serious youth violence as they may have low self-esteem, low resilience, attachment issues and the fact that they are often isolated from family and friends. Looked after children say that bullies, gangs and the risk of serious youth violence are the worst thing about where they live.

6. Agency Responses

Caption: Agency Responses


Local authority children's social care professionals need to be alert to the possibility that a child referred to them or a child they are already working with may, in addition to any of the child's other presenting issues, be or become vulnerable to / involved with, a gang or serious youth violence.


A high proportion of gang-involved children are known to YOTs and a recent UK study findings were that almost two thirds of a sample of active gang members interviewed had been permanently excluded from school.


The police, especially safer neighbourhood policing teams, should be aware of siblings or other children living in households which are affected by gang activity and/or serious youth violence, including parents as adult gang members, and should share this information internally with child abuse investigation teams and externally with local authority children's social care at the earliest opportunity.


If the police give an Osman Warning - [The Osman v United Kingdom case (1998) placed a positive obligation on the authorities to take preventive measures to protect an individual whose life is at risk from the criminal acts of another individual e.g. where a gang member threatens to kill another gang member] - to a child they should inform local authority children's social care at the earliest opportunity.


Schools affected by gang issues and potential or actual serious youth violence will need to work in partnership with the police (the Safer Neighbourhoods Policing Team), YOS services and local authority children's social care. Safer school partnerships can be an effective forum for this multi-agency working.


Community groups / third sector agencies can be well placed to know the profile and location of local gang activity and potential or actual serious youth violence through their community links.


See also: Ending gang violence and exploitation January 2016.

7. Violent Extremism

Caption: Violent Extremism


Particularly from their teenage years onwards children can be vulnerable to getting involved with radical groups through direct contact with members or, increasingly, through the internet. This can put the child at risk of being drawn in to criminal activity and has the potential to cause significant harm. Concerns relating to radicalisation should be referred to the police using the Prevent National Referral Form.



Channel forms part of the cross-Government Prevent Strategy to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting violent extremism. Channel is the mechanism for making referrals and accessing support for children (and adults) at risk of violent extremism. Channel guidance states that if a referred individual is under the age of 18 the Channel co-ordinator must liaise with the local authority children's social care service (the latter should be represented on the Prevent partnership and multi-agency Channel panel) to agree how best to manage the case.


Following initial discussion a decision needs to be made on how to progress the case (e.g. as a safeguarding issue, under Channel, or another support process) and establish how this will be reviewed. This decision can be taken on a case by case basis or a decision can be made by all local partners to use one particular system for the referral of all children.


If an area does not have Channel, local areas should incorporate referrals of children within local Early Help and safeguarding procedures i.e. in line with the Referral and Assessment Procedure.


See the Prevent Strategy at and also the Channel Guidance.


Local strategic partnerships, children's trusts or equivalent and crime and disorder partnerships, advised by LSCPs, should have an agreed processes in place for safeguarding children vulnerable to gangs, serious youth violence and violent extremism. Local safeguarding strategies should:

  • Promote awareness of the relationship between 'good enough' parenting and aggression in children; and
  • Promote early years service-led parenting support;
  • Promote capacity-building in the community for parental self-help groups to educate and support 'good enough' parenting; and
  • Promote targeted youth support, re-engagement and participation.

8. Further Information

Knife, Gun and Gang Crime

Criminal Exploitation of Children and Vulnerable Adults: County Lines

The Centre for Social Justice: Girls and Gangs

Injunctions to Prevent Gang-Related Violence and Gang-Related Drug Dealing A Practitioners' Guide Revised Guidance (May 2016)

Preventing Gang and Youth Violence: Spotting Signals of Risk and Supporting Children and Young People

Criminal Exploitation of Children and Vulnerable Adults: County Lines (The Home Office) - This guidance outlines what county lines (and associated criminal exploitation) is, signs to look for in potential victims, and what to do about it.

County Lines Drug Supply, Vulnerability and Harm (2018)

Children's Voices - A review of evidence on the subjective wellbeing of children involved in gangs in England (Children's Commissioner, November 2017)

Serious Violence Duty - Preventing and Reducing Serious Violence: Statutory Guidance for Responsible Authorities

Children and Young People Trafficked for the Purpose of Criminal Exploitation in Relation to County Lines a Toolkit For Professionals - (The Children's Society in partnership with Victim Support and the National Police Chiefs' Council) - a number of resources that may be useful for professionals when working with children and young people, their families and communities at risk of abuse and exploitation.

Criminal exploitation of children and vulnerable adults: county lines (GOV.UK) - Guidance for frontline professionals on dealing with county lines, part of the government's approach to ending gang violence and exploitation.

Child exploitation disruption toolkit (The Home Office) - Disruption tactics for those working to safeguard children and young people under the age of 18 from sexual and criminal exploitation.