Developing contextual responses to the abuse and exploitation of young people


Margate Task Force: Pioneering early intervention approaches for vulnerable young people



The Margate Task Force (MTF) is a multi-award winning, co-located integrated services team that jointly tackles highly complex and challenging issues such as: child protection, exploitation, safeguarding, gangs, crime, welfare dependency, health, drugs and quality of life. The team comprises 40 members of staff from 16 different agencies and commissioned services - a mixture of full time, part time and task allocated resources.   They target some of the most deprived wards in Kent.

A project team within the MTF has implemented a number of project streams focussing on ‘Early Intervention’.  The project is funded by the Department for Communities & Local Government (DCLG), Transformation Challenge Award (TCA).

The project work streams comprise the following:

- Geo-Mapping of agencies’ data to better identify and assess safeguarding risks  by highlighting ‘super-hotspots’ requiring joint agency interventions. The two images immediately below are sample geo-maps.

- Using ‘Peer Group Analysis’ (Visual Network Charts) to aid identification and assessment of safeguarding risk for gang affected/exploited young people.  The chart below clearly demonstrates relationships between individuals and groups. This knowledge facilitates sharing of case information between: Schools, Pupil Referral Units, Youth Offending Services, Children’s Specialist Services, Drug/Alcohol Treatment Services, and Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services.

- Using qualitative data from multi-agency Family Support Panels (FSPs) for gang affected and exploited young people, to enhance understanding of risks and grooming mechanisms/gang tactics, etc.

- Generating new, innovative ways to represent key data based on per 1,000 population, to enhance strategic and operational understanding of threat, risk and harm.

Of particular note are the ‘client focussed’ Family Support Panel (FSPs) comprising skilled staff from: Drug & Alcohol Support, Specialist Nursing, Mental Health, Police, Youth Offending Service, Early HeIp and Preventative Services, Job Centre Plus, Missing Children’s Team, School Welfare, Joint Family Management, Domestic Abuse Services.  The Panel sit together in a semi-circle formation with parents and siblings of the gang affected/exploited young person.

With the permission of participants the FSP session is recorded and lasts about 50 minutes using a basic cognitive-behavioural approach that explores emotions and causal factors.  Participants have often referred to it as the ‘power of the semi-circle’, as it has proved highly cathartic and beneficial to all involved.

The cohort of ‘gang affected/at risk of exploitation’ young people for the panels is drawn from  objective multi-agency ‘Peer Group Analysis’ (Visual Network Charts) of young people in schools.  This is a proven method in Organised Crime investigation.

The key Panel components are:

- Individual declaration of support from panel members.

- Education – covering Grooming Methods, Gang Recruitment Tactics, Gang Advice for Parents & Carers, Drugs and Alcohol Advice, Mental Health guidance.

- ‘Youth Offer’ – offer of positive diversionary activities and support inputs focussing on self-esteem, developing team/personal skills and building a sense of hope.

- ‘Positive Future Contract’ – joint commitment by all to positive future action - includes agency participants, carers, client and siblings.

Within the Panels many clients have expressed ‘Dual Diagnosis’ needs - the condition of suffering from a mental health illness and problematic drug and/or alcohol use.  This condition has been exacerbated by exploitative organised gang grooming tactics, whereby high strength cannabis is given freely to the targeted young person (initially as a gift); resulting in increasingly disruptive behaviour within the school environment and domestic abuse within the family towards parents, carers, grandparents and younger siblings.  The biggest cohort at this time of both early affected and entrenched gang young people is aged 12-14 years.  Worryingly the use of high strength cannabis at this stage of adolescent physical changes can adversely affect physiological development; increasing the risk of long term psychosis.  Unfortunately many young people are regularly using a combination of high strength cannabis with alcohol, potent caffeine drinks and the playing of violent computer games.  This suite of adverse consumption has the potential to affect brain development; causing permanent frontal lobe physiological damage, long term psychosis and suicidal tendencies.

The panels provide a rich source for understanding exploitation tactics, vital when perpetrators are sadly ‘grooming’ young people with no criminal background in periods as short as 8 weeks – going from ‘clean skin’ to fully fledged, participating gang members dealing drugs for them.  Such powerful qualitative evidence about the relentless intimidation and targeting of our most vulnerable children has generated new understanding and identified better opportunities for early intervention.  A particular patterning being analysed is the recruitment of young people with special educational needs and disabilities. Forensic Psychologists from the University of Kent at Canterbury (UKC), Centre of Research and Education – Forensic Psychology (CoRE-FP) researched the adult variant of these panels and found efficacy both for clients and participating agencies. (A copy of this report is available on request.  Please email

The delivery of educational inputs to statutory and commissioned agency staff has emerged as an integral role for the team.  ‘Gangs – Need to Know’ sessions have been delivered across the county of Kent.  The training is certified by Kent Safeguarding Children’s Board (KSCB) and has been designed to raise awareness of issues, improve the sharing of safeguarding information between agencies and to enhance effective joint assessment of threat, risk and harm.  This has strengthened integrated responses to gang affected and exploited young people and improved the identification of early intervention and risk mitigation opportunities throughout Kent.  The educational program is continually being developed in response to feedback.  This year alone training has successfully been delivered to over 2,000 professional staff.  Further training will be tailored towards the needs of pupils ‘at risk’ of ‘peer grooming’ in a school setting.

The Margate Task Force has worked closely with key stakeholders who have willingly offered expert knowledge and positive support.  This stakeholder cohort includes the:  Home Office, Ending Gang Violence & Exploitation (EGVE) team, Department for Education (DfE) Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND) team, ‘Achievement for All’, Prince’s Trust, Duke of Edinburgh Scheme, Centre of Excellence for Information Sharing (CEIS) and the ‘Early Intervention Foundation (EIF).

These transformative approaches have generated positive outcomes; offering better, more timely joint responses to the complex needs of our most vulnerable young people and their families.  This integrated focus on key areas of safeguarding threat, risk and harm, supported by enhanced information sharing, has the potential to offer more sustainable positive outcomes for young people treading the path towards entrenched reoffending and increased levels of violence, trauma and substance misuse.

This blog entry was written by, and reflects the views of, the author. If you would like more information, you may contact the author at

Posted: 13 Oct 2016

University of Bedfordshire logo