Gangs are recruiting children to deal drugs by luring them with free fast food.
The use of the tactic – known as ‘chicken shop grooming’ – has seen schools launch campaigns to warn children.
A primary school head teacher has shared a YouTube video highlighting the dangers amid fears the technique is being used at takeaways in the area.
While a separate poster campaign, launched by the London Grid for Learning, tells secondary school students: ‘There’s no such thing as free chicken! Friends of friends who buy you things often want something in return.’
The poster was launched by London Grid for Learning (LGfL) – a community of schools and local authorities in the capital.
Chicken shop grooming’ has seen schools launch campaigns to warn children of the dangers of the new recruitment technique (stock image)
The group’s online safety and safeguarding manager Mark Bentley said: ‘In terms of schools or parents who might think this wouldn’t happen in this leafy area, chicken shops are legion, and kids like to hit the chicken shop on the way home from school.
‘It’s so easy for them to think, ‘oh, I can save a couple of quid’, and it’s easy to get sucked in.’
Evidence from the Youth Justice Board of England and Wales, submitted as part of an investigation into the UK’s knife crime epidemic, shows young people believe those who have been excluded from school and are instead attending ‘Pupil Referral Units’ are particularly vulnerable to exploitation.
It added: ‘They also said that sometimes children are recruited through an offer of food (referred to as chicken shop gangs) and they felt that schools could to do more to keep children in school as it could be a protective factor from gang involvement.’
As many as 10,000 children may be involved in ‘county lines’ drug dealing, with profits estimated to total around £500 million a year (stock image)
The Children’s Society last month said ‘county lines’ drug gangs – which use young and vulnerable people as couriers to move drugs and cash between cities and smaller towns – are recruiting children as young as seven, although those aged 14 to 17 are most at risk.
Natasha Chopra, the charity’s London disrupting exploitation programme manager, said cuts to youth services have led to more children spending time in places where they could be targeted.
She said: ‘Young people tend to go to places like fast-food chains of a cheaper cost. Young people may use certain fast-food chains as a place to socialise.
‘Exploiters will actually watch and observe the young people.
‘They will watch and they will check and think, ‘Ok this particular young person comes in at this time, they leave at this time. Why are they not going home?’
‘That’s the way it will start with a conversation like, ‘Hi, here’s some chicken or here’s some chips’ and that relationship can form quite easily.’
Ms Chopra said the next phase of exploitation could involve a child being offered around £20 to act as a lookout for a criminal gang before becoming ‘hooked’ on the experience of having access to money and feeling like they are part of a family or moving up the ranks.
Once involved in a gang, children are stopped from leaving with threats towards family members and friends, or with videos of them performing sex acts or inserting drugs into their bodies, she said.
In January, the National Crime Agency (NCA) warned as many as 10,000 children may be involved in ‘county lines’ drug dealing, with profits estimated to total around £500 million a year.