A committee heard many children are dragged into criminal activity by family members.
Many Bradford children are being groomed into a life of crime, and it is often their family that is doing the grooming.
The issue of child criminal exploitation and “County Lines” has come into the public consciousness in recent years, with a greater acknowledgement that many criminal gangs deliberately target young children to carry out their dirty work.
At a recent meeting of Bradford Council’s Children’s Services Scrutiny Committee, members were told what was being done to tackle the issue in the District. And they heard that many children were dragged into criminal activity by family members.
A report to the committee said most recent figures show that there are at least 94 children in Bradford who have been “flagged” as being vulnerable to child criminal exploitation – but these figures are likely to rise as awareness of the issue grows.
Most of these young people were boys aged 14 to 17, and members were told of the work being done to try to help vulnerable young people avoiding a life of crime.
Superintendent Alisa Newman from West Yorkshire Police said: “A few years ago a child aged 14 or 15 who is committing crime might only have been considered an offender. There is now a different mindset, we now might consider if these children might have been exploited into committing those crimes.
“In some areas like Holme Wood, Bradford Moor and Keighley there are some families involved in organised crime, and this can be a pathway for young people in that family to get involved in crime.
“A lot of young people know what organised crimes is – what they don’t know is how to say no, especially when the person asking them to get involved in crime is a sibling or uncle.
“They may think it is just safer to do what they say rather than say no. We need to think how we have those conversations that help young people say no, we need to give them that opportunity to change their lives. We need to make sure they don’t fall through the gaps.
“Coercive behaviour is a crime, but getting someone to realise they are being exploited is very difficult.”
The panel was asked why the issues of criminal exploitation and sexual exploitation had been brought together.
Supt Newman said: “There isn’t a clear line between the two. Some young people might move between the two, or fall into both categories.”
Mark Griffin, from the Bradford Safeguarding Children’s Board, added: “The way police used to tackle organised crime was disruption. But we can see that some of this crime is generational. Now we’re thinking how we work with families with a preventative approach. It is an attempt to stop the next generation of organised criminals ever becoming active. We’re trying to give alternative routes for children rather than have them following in the footsteps of their older siblings or parents.”
In Bradford one of the main projects to deal with the issue is called Breaking the Cycle. Youth workers engage with young people thought to be at risk of serious organised crime, urban street gangs and county lines.
Over 240 young people have been referred to the scheme since it was set up.
Of these 57 per cent were identified as being at risk of, or involved in serious organised crime and 50 per cent were identified as being at risk of, or involved in County Lines.
43 per cent had previously been found in possession of, or use weapons and violence as part of their criminal behaviours and 57 per cent have links to drugs, either as users, carriers or suppliers.
There has also been schemes in Keighley, Holme Wood and Bradford Moor, all carried out by a partnership of different organisations and trying to divert young people away from crime.
Councillor Alan Wainwright (Lab, Tong) is a ward Councillor for the Holme Wood area. He said it was important projects like this are carried out in areas like Holme Wood. He added: “It’s very important that this is dealt with. I’m really pleased that money has been allocated to tackle the issue. Poor education standards are a big problem. A lot of parents don’t see the need to have their kids educated.
“You ask some young people what they want to do with their lives and they tell you they want a Porsche to drive round it, probably bought with the proceeds of criminality.
“A lot of groups are doing a really excellent job to try and deal with it.”