Worried about gangs?

Gang NSPCC poster

Many teenagers and young people spend time with the same group of friends. When does this become a problem? When should you be concerned about gangs? A gang is usually considered to be a group of people who spend time in public places that:

  • see themselves (and are seen by others) as a noticeable group, and
  • engage in a range of criminal activity and violence

They may identify with or lay claim over a certain territory, or be in conflict with other gangs. 

If you are concerned about a young person who may be involved in gangs, please call the Brent Family Front Door on 020 8937 4300, or contact the agencies below directly to access support.

Advice for parents

Many teenagers and young people spend time with the same group of friends. When does this become a problem? When should you be concerned about gangs?

A gang is usually considered to be a group of people who spend time in public places that

  • See themselves (and are seen by others) as a noticeable group, and
  • Engage in a range of criminal activity and violence

They may identify with or lay claim over a certain territory, or be in conflict with other gangs. 

What is wrong with gangs

Gang members are more likely to be involved in group violence, drug use and other illegal behaviour – and a criminal record lasts for a lifetime. It can stop someone getting into university or college, getting a job, or travelling abroad. 

Research has shown that even if a person leaves the gang, the consequences can last well into adulthood. A former gang member is at a significantly higher risk of being incarcerated and receiving illegal income, less likely to have finished school and more likely to be in poor health, receiving government assistance or struggling with drug abuse. 

Why young people join gangs

There are many reasons a young person might join a gang. The reasons make sense to them, even if you as an adult can’t understand them.

  • Respect and status
  • Friendship
  • A sense of belonging
  • Excitement
  • A substitute family
  •  Power
  • Protection or safety
  • Money
  • Peer pressure

How to tell if your child is in a gang

There are signs you as a parent or guardian can watch out for that may mean your child is involved in a gang. However, many of them can be normal teenage behaviours and it is important not to jump to conclusions or make accusations.

  • Gangs - Jays storyA new group of friends
  • Ignoring or no longer spending time with old friends
  • Withdrawing from the family
  • New nickname
  • Dropping positive activities like sport
  • Urgent or secretive calls or texts
  • Frequent mention of a friend who seems to have a lot of influence on them
  • Specific dress style
  • Graffiti-style tags on possessions
  • Speaking with new slang or in an aggressive tone
  • Poor school results, loss of interest in or skipping school
  • Unexplained money or new possessions
  • Unexplained physical injuries
  • Listening to music with violent content or which glorifies gang culture
  • Staying out at night or going missing

What are the signs to look for?  Read Jay’s story.

How to stop your child becoming involved in a gang

Regular, open communication is important  

Your child needs to see you as a person they can come to if they experience problems or pressure from friends. Talk about gangs directly, explaining the dangers of being in a gang, and the serious consequences of violent or illegal behaviour. If it helps, use reports in the news, or storylines on television programmes as a starting point. Your son or daughter may know more than you think and will have opinions.

Be a role model

Teach by example – how to cope with pressure and how to deal with conflict without the use of violence. Look for ways to discipline children that do not involve harshness, anger or violence.

Be involved

Get involved in your child’s school activities. Know your child’s friends and their families, and always know where your child is and who they’re with. Be aware of what your child is doing on the internet. Don’t be afraid to discuss any concerns with the school or with other parents – you can work together to watch their behaviour.

Offer alternatives

Encourage your child to get involved in positive social activities such as sports. This can give young people a sense of belonging and encourage them to behave in a socially responsible way. You might also encourage them to think about their future employment.  Remember that they are growing up in a different time from you, facing unique challenges. Discuss their hopes and aspirations as well as their fears and worries. Praise them for their achievements and make sure they know you are always there for them.

What to do if you think your child is involved in a gang

It is very likely your child will be scared or unwilling to talk about the situation. It is important that they know you want to listen and support them. Most importantly, let them know that they have a choice. 

Stay calm and rational when talking about the issues, and listen carefully to what they have to say. Avoid anger and accusations. It’s important to really try to understand the situation from their point of view.

Rather than issuing instructions or ultimatums, come to an agreement together about what to do next. 

Girls and gangs

Girls can be affected by gangs, but their involvement may be harder to spot. They might be gang members, or they may be connected to gang members (sisters, girlfriends, friends, cousins, daughters), and so be risk of emotional, physical and sexual violence. They may be asked to hide weapons or drugs, or be targeted by male gang members in acts of revenge or gang initiations. 

Many girls who are involved with gangs may believe that what they are being pressured, forced or choosing to do is acceptable, even normal. They may not realise that what is happening to them is wrong, or they may be afraid of what might happen if they tell anyone. 

Some signs that a girl you know might be involved with a gang include:

  • Changes in physical appearance (for example wearing more ‘adult’ clothes, or wearing baggy clothes and no make up)
  • Unexplained money or possessions
  • Getting involved in fights
  • Committing crimes such as shoplifting
  • Regularly staying out late or going missing from home
  • Abusing drugs and/or alcohol
  • Physical injuries (which may indicate violence from others and/or self-harming)
  • Refusing to seek medical help for such injuries and becoming fearful and/or withdrawn and/or prone to unexplained outbursts of anger

What the law says

Gangs are often involved in violence and other criminal activity. If your child is involved, even if they did not actually commit a crime, they can be charged. For example, if your child provided support or encouragement to a fellow gang member who committed a robbery or injured someone, they too can be charged with the same offence. This is called a joint enterprise.

  • It is illegal to carry a knife in a in a public place, even if it belongs to someone else
  • It is illegal to carry a folding pocketknife if the edge of the blade exceeds 3 inches
  • It is illegal to carry a pocketknife if the blade can be locked
  • It is illegal to carry any knife, including folding knives, if there is intent to use it as a weapon, even if it belongs to someone else
  • The maximum sentence for possessing a knife in a public place without a good excuse has been increased from two to four years for 16-17 year olds and adults
  • It is illegal to keep any prohibited firearm, or to carry any firearm including an imitation – in public, even if you are carrying it for someone else
  • The maximum sentence for unlawful possession of a prohibited firearm is ten years. The minimum sentence is three years for 16-17 year olds and five years for adults
  • Police can and will search someone if they believe they are carrying a gun, knife or other weapon
  • Police and school staff can also search young people for weapons at school 

For more information on what the law says about carrying weapons visit the Gov.uk website

Committing a crime and ending up with a criminal record will affect the rest of a young person’s life. Having a criminal record can prevent a young person getting a job, going to university or college and even travelling abroad.

You should call 101 to report crime and other concerns that do not require an emergency response. Call 999 in an emergency.

General advice

  • For parents and carers (.pdf) - government information to help parents identify and respond if their children are affected by gangs.
  • For schools and colleges (.pdf) - home office advice for schools regarding preventing youth violence and gang involvement.
  • Advice from NSPCC-  on gangs and young people.
  • www.droptheweapons.org - Met Police site advice against carrying weapons and the laws surrounding it
  • Home Office county lines guidance - Recognising criminal exploitation of children and vulnerable adults in a geographically area. County lines is the police term for urban gangs supplying drugs to suburban areas and market and coastal towns using dedicated mobile phone lines or “deal lines”.

Brent support services that can help

PLIAS Resettlement –supports young ex-offenders who are exiting prison and gang lifestyles towards education, training and employment.

MAC-UK – works with excluded young people engaged in youth violence and gang-related incidents and provides accessible mental health support

Just For Kids Law – offers support, advice and legal representation for young people in difficulty, involved in or at risk of being involved in gangs.

St Giles Trust – helps ex-offenders and disadvantaged people to move their lives forward. SOS project officers also offer intensive support to people in prison.

Safer London – a pan-London programme that helps young people who are at high risk of becoming victims of gang violence.

Air Network - providing support and a wide range of experiences and activities to promote recovery.

National helplines

  • www.gangsline.com - call 0800 032 9538 - supports to young men and women involved in gang culture.
  • NSPCC helpline - call 0808 800 5000 or email help@nspcc.org.uk - professional counsellors can offer help, advice and support.
  • Childline - call 24-hour helpline 0800 1111 - if you want to get out of a gang or need to talk to someone. All calls are free and confidential.