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 is based on our casework with vulnerable children over many years, and 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.
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.’
Download and read the report below.