Gangs and Young People

What is a gang?

The term ‘gang’ means different things to different people. A group of young people hanging out together does not make a gang. A gang is usually considered to be a group of people who spend time in public places that also:

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

They may also have any or all of the following features

  • identify with or lay a claim over territory,
  • or are in conflict with other, similar gangs.

A criminal network however is different from a gang; it's a group of individuals involved in persistent criminality for some form of personal gain (this includes profit and/or to gain or demonstrate status) which is causing significant harm to the community. It is:

  • a group that keeps breaking the law to make money. This law-breaking is causing harm to the community or, this law-breaking is a problem internationally (e.g. people trafficking).
  • Use of violence in order to make money (e.g. to scare people into giving them money).
  • Running an illegal business (e.g. drug trafficking)

County Lines

County lines is a form of criminal exploitation where urban gangs persuade, coerce or force children and young people to store drugs and money and/or transport them to suburban areas, market towns and coastal towns (Home Office, 2018). It can happen in any part of the UK and is against the law and a form of child abuse. The NSPCC has information on recognising the signs of the grooming process, how to respond and how to prevent.



Gangs can use high levels of violence and intimidation to protect the ‘county line’ and control them. One of these forms of control exploits vulnerable people by using their home as a base for dealing drugs, a process known as cuckooing. Dealers often convince the vulnerable person to let their home be used for drug dealing by giving them free drugs or offering to pay for food or utilities.

There are several signs to look out for that may indicate someone is a victim of cuckooing:

  • frequent visitors at unsociable hours
  • changes in your neighbour’s daily routine
  • unusual smells coming from a property
  • suspicious or unfamiliar vehicles outside an address

Why do people belong to gangs?

Young people might join a gang for the following reasons:

  • identity
  • a sense of belonging
  • they think it will make them safer
  • they think they will make money
  • they are forced in to joining (blackmailed or coerced)

Children and young people involved with, or on the edges of, gangs might be victims of violence or they might be pressured into doing things like stealing or carrying drugs or weapons (sometimes called ‘running county lines’). They might be abused, exploited or put into dangerous situations. Initiation in to gangs is often a form of abuse, often sexual.

How can you help a child involved in a gang?

You can call Childline on 0800 1111 for support and advice - it's a free 24/7 confidential helpline for children and young people - or they can access more information about gangs on the Childline website

If you want to provide information about a crime without talking to the police, you can contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

The Metropolitan Police’s Safe website has information about exiting gangs and advice and guidance about group violence and what to do if a child or young person is being pressured to join a gang.

London Needs You Alive - The Mayor of London has published an Anti Knife Crime Toolkit which is free to download.

If you think a child is being exploited/ abused, see the What To Do If You Are Concerned About A Child page and refer the child to the Bromley Chiliden and Families Hub.

Pan-London Child Exploitation Protocol 2021

Bromley Harm Outside The Home Resource Pack 2023