Imagine Jack, a 10 year-old who likes to spend time out with his friends rather than doing his homework. He is pretty popular with most people he hangs around with and he only likes wearing blue. He could be typical of many boys his age.
Now imagine that his school grades have been slipping recently. He can sometimes seem withdrawn and his parents are quite concerned about some of the friends he has made in the last few months.
There could be a lot more going on in Jack’s life than is apparent on first glance. According to one youth charity, these could all be signs that a child is being actively recruited by a local gang.
As authority staff know, street gangs operate in many parts of the country, but they are often most prevalent in large cities. They can be linked to a variety of criminal activity, including anti-social behaviour, drug offences and knife crime.
So, how can local authorities get a clearer picture of the impact of gang activity in their area? And crucially, what can they do to prevent gang culture from blighting the lives and futures of vulnerable children and young people, like Jack? Technology can help with this.
Identifying and supporting children at risk
There can be a myriad of reasons why young people get involved with gangs and criminality – it can be a difficult pathway to escape from. A key challenge for authorities is intervening early enough to prevent vulnerable individuals from being enticed into gang life in the first place.
Gangs often recruit new members from a young age and the government has called for early help work relating to gang prevention to be increased in schools. Identifying those children who are likely to be targeted is the first step – and technology now exists that will make this a lot easier.
Using the information available to them, authority staff can use powerful data analysis tools to highlight primary school aged children who have links with known gang members – either through family connections or friendships – at the touch of a button. These are the children who will be at greatest risk of being targeted for recruitment by a gang, so knowing who they are gives teams a much better chance of putting effective support in place to steer them away from this life.
Mapping out gang activity
Another key factor in reducing gang activity is to get a clear picture of where they operate. There is software available that can help authorities do this by mapping out the geographical areas where the different gangs are known to be active. Having this type of information to hand is essential for ensuring that resources for gang prevention work, such as the launch of a new youth club or drop in support centre, are targeted where they will have the greatest impact on improving the lives of neighbouring communities.
Many of the factors surrounding gang culture can often be hidden from view. But when authorities have access to meaningful information – who is involved in what gang and where they operate, for example – children like Jack are much more likely to get the support they need to aim for a better life and brighter future.