Edtech charity LGfL has launched a new poster campaign to raise awareness of a disturbing trend known as ‘chicken shop grooming’.
Recent evidence presented by the Youth Select Committee in a parliamentary enquiry has highlighted the worrying connection between fast food shops and grooming, where gangs based in chickenshops offer young people ‘free’ food in order to coerce them into drug trafficking or violent crime.
The Children’s Society report published in July 2019 – Counting Lives: Responding to Children who are Criminally Exploited – indicates that county lines drug gangs have recruited children as young as seven or eight, with 14-17 year olds most at risk of exploitation.
LGfL says ‘Chicken shop grooming’ is a form of child exploitation prevalent throughout the UK, which has not received widespread public attention until recently.
Young people on their way home from school are bought food by an acquaintance or stranger over a number of days and start to unknowingly accrue debt.
The groomer informs the child that the only way to repay the debt is to begin trafficking drugs; however, the dealer might arrange for the young person to be robbed while carrying the substances. The original debt is not cleared and the sum will now include the cost of the lost stock, raising the bill to hundreds or thousands of pounds.
Groomers trap children in this cycle of drug dealing, with the situation sometimes escalating so severely that young people disappear from home to live in a ‘cuckoo’ house – a vulnerable person’s home used by gangs to remain under the police radar.
Although commonly associated with drug dealing and gangs, chicken shop grooming can also lead to child sexual exploitation (CSE). Children’s charity Barnardo’s explains how gifts (including free food) may be used against young people to extort sexual ‘favours’. Watch their video here to learn more.
LGfL serves a community of 3,000 member schools throughout the UK, focusing on saving schools money, tackling inequality and keeping children safe.
Their poster campaign paired with the tagline ‘There’s no such thing as free chicken’ highlights the dangers of this site-specific exploitation, raising awareness of the fact that ‘Friends of friends who buy you things often want something in return’ to prevent children unknowingly accumulating debt by accepting free food.
For more information, please visit chicken.lgfl.net.