THREAT: sheldon Thomas says having no father figure can lead to kid's joining gangs
CHILDREN who grow up without a father figure are at greater risk of being drawn into drug dealing and other crime, according to a former gang member.
Sheldon Thomas, chief executive of Gangsline, was a gang member in the 1970s who set up the organisation to steer other youngsters from trouble, after seeing the error of his ways in the 1990s.
He now also acts as a consultant on gangs to police and the Home Office.
He believes the high number of black children brought up by single mothers in "fatherless homes" is a key reason why so many of them are talked into joining criminal gangs by older youths they see as role models
Figures show 61 per cent of African and Caribbean households have no father figure.
He said: "Studies have concluded that there is a direct link to absent fathers and young men and women being groomed into gangs.
"We need to address why it has become excepted that men can leave the family home and for women to bear the sole burden of raising two or three kids and sometimes more on their own."
FAMILY: Gangs can provide children with what they felt was missing from the family, it is claimed
The Government is trying to stem a huge rise in gang-related violence, much of which is believed to relate to feuds between drug dealers.
There have been more than 100 murders in London already this year, with a large percentage being young black men and teenagers.
Mr Thomas said most of the victims and suspects come from fatherless homes as do 72 per cent of male prisoners.
He said: "There is a direct link with this and young men and some young girls involved in gangs and serious youth violence.
"Grooming and exploitation by older gang members becomes very easy for them to lead these young children into a life of gangs because of their vulnerability.
"A lack of love, affirmation, discipline, purpose, and role models will eventually lead children to look for a sense of belonging and in most cases the surrogate family - the gangs."
However, Mr Thomas believe middle class children are also in danger of being groomed into organised crime if their parents are too focussed on their careers and don't show them enough attention.
Earlier this year it emerged gangs from cities were recruiting suburban middle class school children to sell drugs for them in market towns, as part of the so-called county lines epidemic which has seen urban criminals branch out to selling crack cocaine and heroin in quieter areas across the UK.
UP COUNTY: Drug dealing has spread out to suburban and rural areas via so-called 'county lines'
The well-spoken youngsters are favoured as the gangs believe they are less likely to be stopped by police.
Mr Thomas pointed to a 2015 UN report which concluded children in the UK are more likely to grow up in a loveless home than children in Europe.
He said: "One of the reasons they stated was that Britain has become a society where business and success have become far more important than spending the right amount of time with our children.
"Middle class white children who have both parents are just as likely to be groomed into gangs, because because according to the UN report, children who grow up, not feeling that sense of love will seek it elsewhere and this is usually in the arms of a negative peer groups.
"This points to why we have such a high percentage of children from middle class white communities now being groomed into gangs.
"Gangs are no longer targeting poor white and black communities, they are targeting all vulnerable children and that now means no child is safe who does not feel a sense of love or has some kind of relationship with a father figure at home.
The Home Office claims it is tackling the wider issues around gang culture.
In April it launched a Serious Violence Strategy to try to cut down levels of gun and knife violence related to drugs.
A spokesman said: "The strategy focuses on early intervention and prevention which can help catch young people before they go down the wrong path, encouraging them to make positive choices."