«Tara Young, Wendy Fitzgibbon and Daniel Silverstone London Metropolitan University CONTENTS ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS EXECUTIVE SUMMARY 1. INTRODUCTION 1.1 ...»
‘The mother’s working, yeah, and the child leaves the school at three-thirty. Now it doesn’t take a brain surgeon to work out that beautiful gap between three-thirty and six o’clock, seven o’clock, you know what I mean? And the mothers or family members, whoever look after the child, will give them a mobile and so they can say “At least I know where you are.” Well you don’t know where you are, do you? You don’t know where your kid is if you’ve got a mobile phone. As long as they can speak to – “Where are you? Are you at home?” “Yeah. I’m going home, I’m just five minutes away,” or whatever, and they can do whatever they wanna do within that golden period … that’s the most troublesome period for school kids in particular, to actually cause madness.’ (Third-sector practitioner, male) Practitioners repeatedly stated that this lack of awareness or ability to monitor their children’s behaviour in between school activities and arriving home in the evening was particularly significant in terms of gang membership and involvement in delinquency or criminal behaviour.
This was enhanced by the fact that children were often astute at maintaining different identities or personalities and playing different roles within the family at home from those they played with their peers outside the home.
‘And here’s these kids on the bus, and I was sitting there listening coz of that, because you have to. And listening to the language and the crap they’re talking, it was just amazing stuff, yeah? And they were kicking off, banging their feet on the bus, kicking the side of the bus, cursing, laughing out loud, and then one of their phones rang. And it was obviously the mum. And it was “I’m on the bus.” And it was suddenly just went quiet. Anyway, it’s like that, all the kids went quiet, “Yeah I’m on the bus, I’m just five minutes away, I’m just getting off now.” And he changed into a completely different person on the phone to his parent. Yeah? And it was like he walked off the bus like a completely different person, because he was somebody else until the phone rang.’ (Third-sector practitioner, male) Parents’ lack of awareness of their children’s behaviour in gangs was made worse by the fact that children often became very skilled at hiding their whereabouts or their behaviour.
This was a method they used both to protect their parents and to enable their gang activities to continue. The quote above reinforces the observation a few practitioners made regarding the fact that the presence of mobile phones to monitor children’s whereabouts actually seemed, in their view, to enable children to be more deceptive and lead a double life. Thus the child on the bus could switch his behaviour/attitude on the phone to his mother and because it was possible to receive calls anywhere could claim to be ‘five minutes away’ rather than involved in making trouble with his friends on the bus. The conclusion practitioners drew from this was that, far from protecting the child or enabling the parent to communicate with their child and establish their whereabouts and safety, these devices were seen as part of the problem, and a means of deception.
6.1.3 Substance abuse and violence
Practitioners’ perceptions of the effects of parental drug and alcohol abuse and domestic violence were mixed. Some felt that alcohol and drug abuse was quite evident in some of the families they had dealt with where children were in gangs. The gang members interviewed for this research revealed that 27% had parents who abused drugs or alcohol.
‘The reason why they ain’t wearing … their trainers to school every day is because maybe there’s a problem at home with the shoes. Maybe – maybe there’s no money for the shoes. You know, and the reason why their uniform is messed up is their mum’s on crack and they ain’t washing the shirts and they ain’t ironed nothing, that’s why the school uniform looks in a mess.’ (Third-sector practitioner, male) ‘Home visits to families, sitting down, and it’s clear that, you know, mum and dad are – and the kids know this – dealing, or recreational smokers of cannabis or harder drugs, or alcoholics, or doing things that are such an influence, that it’s a norm for these kids.’ (Police officer, male) However, other practitioners stated that they had not noticed or had very rarely come across substance abuse or violence within the families they dealt with. This could support the findings from gang members interviewed for this research. It could also indicate either that those parents who accessed practitioner support were able to hide these problems or that they were atypical in terms of drug and alcohol abuse or that they did not fit into this lifestyle.
6.1.4 Intergenerational gang involvement
Another predominant theme that emerged from most of the practitioners’ interviews was that parents and/or older siblings in particular were often responsible for introducing younger members of the family into the gangs. This supports other research studies (Moore, 1991; Bourgois, 1995; Decker and Van Winkle, 1996). This was especially the case when an older brother or sister was a member of a gang.
‘I can think of some cases … one young man in particular, his older brother had been in prison, and I think they’re like the role models, aren’t they? So I think it’s a lot easier or more accessible, to get involved in gang culture if you already know somebody in it, if you already have a sibling in there, you’re exposed to it … it wouldn’t be unusual to find several or a couple of kids from the same family involved.’ (Local authority practitioner, female) There were a number of case studies of younger siblings following their older siblings into gang membership.
‘We have come across some families where … the younger sibling ends up becoming like the older siblings, there’s a pattern there where they end up following the footsteps of the older child that’s committed all these offences, and at the moment on Pathways we’ve had two family members where one has gone into prison for stabbing someone, quite badly, and then, you know, robbery as well on top, so it’s quite a few offences, big big pattern there, and then the younger boy was doing quite well and then he’s actually ended up in custody at the moment as well because actually he was hanging round with his brother’s friends, even though they were about four years older. He was associating with the same people, and it started off again at – there’s a big link between school exclusion, so it started off at a school exclusion … He was probably around thirteen when he started showing signs of this bad behaviour, and then it just got worse and worse, we were doing all the home visits, trying to work with him, but again there was a pattern there because the father – it’s just the father living with the children – he’s just not interested to be honest with you, you try and get him involved and get him to meetings, he will come and he’s just – it’s like he just doesn’t care, or he doesn’t see the problems.’ (Local council practitioner, female)
6.2 How influential are families?
Some practitioners felt strongly that families played a big role in facilitating gang membership, not least by a complicit denial or refusal to acknowledge the effect of gang membership on a child’s behaviour.
‘It’s like the mum – we find with some of the home visits, the mum … would actually collude with the young boy? Like we go round and say, you know, “You’re doing the
following things, you’re offending, you’re doing this, this could lead two ways for you:
you could end up in prison, you could end up, you know, dead” which are – you know, is powerful messages. But you sometimes find with either the mum or the dad, they’re not interested. It’s like – it’s not they don’t care, but they’re just, “Oh my son’s fine,” or they collude with their child and say, “Oh, you know, oh he was in this time of night,” but you know, we’ve got evidence where, you know, the person has committed a crime, they will cover for them and say, “Oh no, no, they were home, there were at home doing their homework.” (Local authority practitioner, female) Also due to the material benefits derived from some types of gang activity, some parents, particularly those in single-parent households living in economic and emotionally distressed environments, seemed to collude with their child/children. This enabled gang membership to continue and over time become more entrenched.
‘A mother in a council apartment... who’s never worked, who’s had a relationship with somebody, had a couple of kids maybe, and never... managed to get out of the poverty trap. Right, never been anywhere, just do what’s she gotta do, bring up the kids... collect her money from social, or part-time job every now and then... But then her kid becomes a lunatic, yeah... and they start stealing and doing stuff and get involved with the wrong people. But he starts bringing money home... he’s bringing his own trainers, so she’s thinking “Oh I don’t have to buy him trainers, do I?
Fantastic!” You know, she makes feeble attempts, saying “Where do you get that from?”... And then she’s “OK, all right. As long as you don’t bring nothing stolen into the house”...And then, you know, it goes on... and he brings a few pounds in, “Are you doing some part-time or something? Oh, OK” And he lends her a fiver. That’s the first stage... She takes it. And then he brings in money, gives – “Yeah, Mum, take £10, it’s all right.” And she’s into it, and more and more money’s come into the house... she’s getting comfortable with the fact that he’s got money of his own, and she don’t have to spend her money on him. So that gives her a breather. Yeah?... it develops... to the point that she can’t even go into his room. Because he’s now become so empowered that he’s giving... his mum money, he’s become the man of the house, all right? She doesn’t go into his room, she doesn’t know what’s in his room, whether it’s drugs or weapons. And, you know, the flat screen TV’s on the wall, and... he’ll send her on holiday. Never been on holiday before. You gotta look at this kind of temptation... She knows what he’s doing all the time anyway.’ (Thirdsector practitioner, male)
6.2.1 Socio-cultural influences
In terms of social and cultural influences, all practitioners acknowledged that impoverished, deprived environments and the influence of peer groups greatly enhanced the likelihood of peripheral gang activity, which could then develop into more significant gang membership (Hagedorn, 1998; Moore, 1991; Decker and Van Winkle, 1996; Vigil, 2003).
‘There’s a lot of deprivation, disaffection, disengagement from educational – fairly classic things, and a lot of young people who don’t really have anything to hook onto really, so things like gangs are there for them.’ (Youth offending team practitioner, male) ‘And it’s not that what goes on in the home doesn’t have any bearing, because it influences them to a large degree, but it seems to me it’s more of how they’re interacting with their peers. That is quite significant … a lot of them will, you know, have been going to college, but there’s still that mix of yes, they’re trying to do something positive, but they’re still mixing with a lot of the people that they were raised with, so there’s an influence that’s coming from there, that I think is stronger than what’s coming from the home … Because of that sense of wanting to belong, not wanting to be ostracised because maybe you’re not part of whatever they’re dealing with … I do think the peers are hugely significant for a lot of them.’ (Probation officer, female) However some practitioners also argued that the school situation could facilitate gang membership, particularly if the home situation led to the child feeling isolated and alienated in terms of parents being absent or preoccupied by working extremely long hours to support the family.
‘I think what’s really real for the young people is the sense of alienation and lack of opportunity, lack of direction and lack of motivation, and as probably for all of us, some degree of certainty and solidity at certain times is extraordinarily attractive.’ (Youth offending team practitioner, male) Practitioners saw disrupted education, truancy and school exclusion as risk factors in terms of lack of supervision and alienation, leading to gang involvement.