New project aims to frustrate gangs and lure children away from organised crime

€3m programme will be rolled out in two communities which will remain anonymous

The new programme builds on research carried which   senior criminals groom children for a life of offending with the promise of money, drugs and status. Photograph: David Sleator

The new programme builds on research carried which senior criminals groom children for a life of offending with the promise of money, drugs and status. Photograph: David Sleator

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A pilot programme to disrupt organised crime and prevent children being drawn into criminal gangs is to be launched this year by the Government and the Garda at a cost of €3 million.

The three-year programme builds on research carried out by the University of Limerick (UL) which examined how criminal networks operate in disadvantaged communities and how senior criminals groom children for a life of offending with the promise of money, drugs and status.

According to tendering documents, the pilot programmes will be rolled out in two communities which will remain anonymous. It will involve both actively targeting organised criminals which recruit children for crime and supporting families and communities so that children are not drawn to gangs in the first place.

The Greentown programme, which is named after the pseudonym of the community studied by the UL researchers, will target between 25 and 30 children and families each year in each of the two communities and will operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Primary goal

However, the primary goal of the programme is not to break up the gangs but rather to “reduce the risk and attractiveness of children to organised crime and/or gangs”.

The programme will begin with an assessment of the gang activity in the area by the Garda Analysis Service and UL. “This assessment will provide an overall measure of the size and shape of the network, the key actors, the relationships forged between adults and children in joint criminal enterprise, and identify those children at risk or at the periphery of network criminal activity,” a briefing document states.

The criminal network will then be targeted in a four-pronged approach: gang disruption, family support, providing opportunities for young people and building up communities.

The first part will be handled by the Garda which will utilise “all reasonable executive authority to frustrate and disrupt” the activities of senior gang members.

This will provide an opportunity for social workers to dissuade children from joining a gang or help them leave a gang they have already joined.

Lure

At the same time, social workers will select the most at-risk children to take part in an “intensive family programme”, designed to improve parenting skills and enable parents to fight back against the lure of the gangs on their children.

They will also identify the talents and interests of the children and provide practical support to take up employment or training in those areas.

Lastly, the project will help build up positive community initiatives which may have been eroded by gang activity and drug dealing in the area.

This involves working alongside local communities “to bring about small neighbourhood human and social improvements with the intended outcome of increased community confidence”.

The Department of Children has requested organisations with a background in complex social work and intervention to tender for the programme and have made €3 million available over a three-year period.

Prospective applicants are warned about being “too choosy” about taking on difficult or complex cases. “A key criterion is that non-eligibility on the grounds of risk or case complexity is kept to an absolute minimum,” the briefing document states.

The programme will be overseen by the department along with the Garda, the Probation Service, Tusla and UL.

It is understood the programme will be rolled out nationwide if the pilot is successful.