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Getting to grips with youth violence

Too many young lives are being lost as a result of growing violence in our communities. Not all incidents are tied to organised gangs or illegal activity. This is a complex area of policy and practice where children can be both the victim and the perpetrator; in all cases they must be treated as children first, rather than labelled ‘criminals.’

In July ADCS published a policy discussion paper on serious youth violence and knife crime in order to open a discussion about what an integrated, whole system response to the risks and harms facing a small but worrying number of children, young people and young adults should look like. The paper highlighted the need for a clear, coordinated and compassionate strategy focussed on prevention, backed by long term sustainable funding that we can all get behind.

Since then ADCS has been discussing these issues with a range of stakeholders to try and build a common understanding of what a ‘public health approach’ to tackling serious youth violence and knife crime looks like. In general terms there is a consensus that:

  • A public health approach is about systems, not services
  • There are no quick fixes, we need to recognise the unique context of each child and this needs to be reflected in our response to them
  • Our focus needs to be on ‘all’ children not just ‘vulnerable’ children as the impact of incidents can send ripples throughout communities
  • Additional resources are required, enabling us to respond to the immediate risk of harm whilst simultaneously preventing future risks via the provision of sustained help and support at the earliest possible opportunity
  • Greater cross-departmental working is needed at a national level, reflecting greater collaboration in local partnerships.

I do not doubt the government’s commitment to tackling serious youth violence and knife crime but the response so far has been: stricter laws, longer sentences, the expansion of police powers, funding for new police officers and a new duty to collaborate, which already exists of course for children. That is the basis of our safeguarding system. Most recently, Knife Crime Prevention Orders which may serve to criminalise more children and young people and don’t seem to be based in evidence.

These measures won’t address the reasons why a young person might carry a knife or some children can be more at risk of being drawn into criminality. Studies demonstrate a clear link between inequality and high rates of violence.

We must collectively address the root causes of serious youth violence, not just the symptoms if we are to save lives and make a difference.

Stuart Gallimore is the Director of Children’s Services in East Sussex County Council and ADCS Immediate Past President 2019/20.

This column was first published on The MJ website on 15 October 2019 - link

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