Children as young as 14 are involved in drug dealing, and the numbers are likely to rise, according to a new report.
A study by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that more than 50% of dealers had been in local authority care or secure accommodation. They often had no educational qualifications and had used alcohol and illicit drugs from an early age.
With typical earnings of around £450 per week, some young people believed selling drugs offered better prospects than keeping within the law. “Young people face very difficult choices between lucrative illegitimate opportunities and unattractive legitimate ones,” the report said.
Researchers talked to dealers, residents and professionals in four deprived areas of England. In one area they found young people working in shifts to sell drugs, while in another they had been recruited as lookouts. In one community the market relied on young people connecting buyers and sellers.
The study concluded that gaining the trust of the young people to steer them away from their involvement in drugs market would take time, commitment and long-term funding. Attempting to shock the young people about the realities of drug selling, it said, was likely to be met “with derision“.
Tiggey May, a senior research fellow and co-author of the report said youth workers had a key role to play. “They are trusted by young people who listen to what they say,” she said.
She called for schools to be more involved, especially when they have excluded pupils. “Excluded children get an hour’s tuition a day, and the rest of the time is their own. The drugs market becomes their playground.”
May added that it was also important for young people to be “meaningfully” consulted about what services they wanted in their areas. “Consultation should be inclusive, and must not just talk to those who shout the loudest,” she concluded.
Understanding Drug Selling in Communities from www.jrf.org.uk