Sixteen local children were vulnerable to criminal exploitation last year, report finds

Islington Town Hall. Photograph: Islington Citizen

Fifteen boys in Islington were at risk of being drawn into crime such as acting as drug couriers along county lines last year, according to an Islington child protection report.

Between April 2020, just after lockdown started, and March this year, 15 boys and one girl were thought to be vulnerable and were referred for help.

Just over half the children thought to be at risk were Black, with 29 per cent white and 13 per cent mixed race.

British Transport Police are keeping their eyes peeled at Finsbury Park for children who could be at risk of becoming drugs couriers.

The council’s head of safeguarding Laura Eden pointed out that children at risk of joining the county lines network are also vulnerable to getting involved in gangs, serious youth violence and sexual exploitation.

She told the council’s children’s services scrutiny committee (20 September)  that prevention includes “really successful” work by the council’s transitions project in certain hotspots.

The project works with primary pupils in Years 6 and 7 who could be at risk of  future exploitation and serious youth violence.

The council’s adolescent support intervention scheme works with a core group of children at risk of exploitation and going into care.

It offers 20 hours intervention a week per family to try to prevent them going into care.

Despite lockdown, 76 children and under-25s were referred as at risk of serious youth violence or gangs between April last year and March 2021 – down 49 on the previous year.

Over half of them, or 42, were Black, and three of them were girls.

Eden said: “During lockdowns and due to Covid, young people were more identifiable when congregating in groups.

“Young people were staying at home more rather than being in locations where they could be groomed into gang-linked violence.

“However, we know that a lot of grooming and rivalry between groups has moved online during this year.”

According to the council, research has looked into how young people pick their during “ride-outs into rival areas”, and it adds: “It appears that it is not just due to the physical location of the victim, they also pick someone they think is likely to be affiliated with a gang and their view is influenced by what age, gender and race of a stereotypical gang member media projects on society.”

Children who have gone missing from home or care are vulnerable to this kind of exploitation.

Last year, 156 Islington children went missing – down from 200 the previous year. Teenagers aged 15 and 16 were most likely to go missing from home, and 17-year-olds were most likely to go missing from care.

More boys than girls went missing, with a disproportionate number of Black children going missing.

Whilst 52 children returned home within 24 hours, one child was missing for more than a month.

Worryingly, 41 children were assessed as being at risk of child sexual exploitation last year. This includes 38 girls, two boys and one transgender young person – the majority of them just 15 years old.