Vulnerable children in care are being recruited by gangs on social media to ferry drugs across the country.

Some young people are still exploited by Croydon gangs even after moving 50 miles away from the borough, a report has warned.

The Croydon Council report, drawn up in response to Lord Laming’s review of looked-after children in the criminal justice system, highlighted concern among social services about children in foster homes and residential care falling into lives of crime.

Less than one per cent of young people in Croydon have been or are in the council’s care, yet a third of boys and 61 per cent of girls that end up in custody have spent time in care.

One child the authority is currently working with, referred to in the report as P, has been in and out of the justice system since he was 11.

Authorities believe he has been recruited by a gang to as a drug mule.

P has been reported missing on numerous occasions, convicted for a serious violent crime and excluded from school for carrying a knife.

The report, published last week, read: “There were further concerns that P was getting involved with gang activity. His family were very concerned about him, but were not always co-operative with the agencies.

“Earlier this year, P was placed in foster care approximately 50 miles from London with the intention that this would prevent him from going missing.

"However, this has not been successful and he is always picked up in the Croydon area.

“There are continued concerns that P is being used by gangs to transport drugs across southern England.”

Andy Tarrant, Croydon police’s borough commander, said gangs were using Facebook and Twitter to recruit children.

He said: “Social media is our biggest challenge. It is not a case of people hanging around particular areas where young people congregate, now it is all online through social media.

“It is hard for us to manage because potentially you could have someone communicating with someone who they think is another youth when they are no such thing.

“So we rely very much on referrals from other agencies and parents and guardians so we can make enquiries into the person they are communicating with.

“We are seeing it but it [drug dealing outside of London] but is not prevalent and I think we have got a good handle on it with other police forces in the UK.”

A multi-agency gang team comprised of police, council, charities and businesses has been formed to steer children away from a life of crime.

Chief Supt Tarrant said: “Persistent criminals are probably going to need to be locked up if they are on this pattern of offending and, in reality, they are just going to carry on offending.

“But if you can get through to people and perhaps get them a job and divert them away from criminality that has got to be the way forward.

“Ultimately it is very expensive to keep people in prison and it only works for some that are persistent criminals but ultimately if we can rehabilitate some then that is a long-term solution.”

Employment website LoveLocalJobs, which is involved with the anti-gangs team, is set to launch a programme engaging vulnerable young people with local businesses to provide career advice on Thursday.

Rosanna Farrar, head of partnerships and events at the company, said: “We are working with 13 and 14-year-olds because that is a pivotal age where the life choices they make can have a major effect on their employability in the future.

“You are finding your way at that age and you are finding your place within peer groups as well as making big decisions about your future.

“If [young people] don’t believe that they have any kind of future then there is a shrug your shoulders attitude and they go down the nearest pathway, which might be a gang.

“I definitely think family background plays a massive part in the way that young people evolve as human beings and I think that as businesses we have a responsibility to step in as role models.”

A council spokesman said: “The number of children exploited to transport drugs is rising across London, although cases still remain rare.

“Where the council does have concerns of this kind of activity we will always work with the police to intervene and protect the interests of the child.”