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Beyond the doors of school – serious youth violence in our communities

Beyond the doors of school – serious youth violence in our communities

18th March 2021

TLG is one of three charities being supported by the 2021 Diocese of London Lent Appeal, which this year is focusing on youth violence.  In the first blog of a two-part series, Deborah, a former TLG headteacher who is currently leading TLG’s work on serious youth violence, writes about the issue and how it has been affected by the COVID-19.

Youth violence has sadly become a regular feature across local and national news over recent years. While watching these heart-breaking scenes, you may have wondered what has caused this increase and what can be done about it. These are questions we at TLG continue to challenge ourselves over, determined to play our part to support vulnerable young people at risk of youth crime. Working in communities across the UK, we are in a unique position to equip the church to play their role in getting alongside these struggling young people.

But first, what is youth violence, who is affected by it and how has COVID-19 impacted it?

Youth violence, which is prevalent across the UK, is the intentional use of physical force or power to threaten or harm others by young people aged between 10-24 years. It includes fighting, bullying, threats with weapons, and gang-related violence. A young person can be involved with youth violence as a victim, offender, or witness. 

Over the last few years there has been a significant ‘uplift’ in reported crime and increased incidents of drug use and distribution, knife seizures, incidents of violence, child grooming and child sexual exploitation (CSE). There has been an 85% increase in knife crime since 2014 and the highest number of children murdered in over a decade were murdered with a knife or sharp object in 2019 (Ben Kinsella Trust, 2020). A Sky News investigation, which released its findings in March 2021, also discovered children as young as 11 were among more than 2,000 youths detained for alleged crimes involving guns, imitation firearms and air weapons between 2018 and January 2021.

Serious youth violence covers much more than common perceptions of knife or gun crime. It is the violent and visible outcome of a complex of social issues, often distorted by media reporting which negatively stereotypes particular groups of young people. Research and statistics show a more diverse picture of serious youth violence, in which school exclusions and loss of youth services stand out as key phenomena.

The root causes of serious youth violence are complex; however, ‘speculation’ has helped to create a stereotype of a young person vulnerable to, or involved in, serious youth violence. In reality, serious youth violence is not simply an urban issue, not simply ‘black on black crime’, not simply reserved to young people involved in gang activity. For example, young women can be both victims and perpetrators of serious youth violence. In addition, serious youth violence is often seen as just an urban issue. However, with an increase in ‘country lines’ drug trafficking, where vulnerable young people are groomed and exploited in the drug trade, violent crime in our coastal, university and market towns has also increased.

In his paper ‘School leadership and the challenge of serious youth violence’, Professor Gus John suggests we need to get beyond stereotypes and media portrayals of serious youth violence and look more deeply into what drivers are creating the conditions for violence. He writes:

When a growing section of the youth population continues to feel they have nothing to lose and even less to gain, when their own freedom ceases to have meaning. It puts us all at risk, because the results for themselves of their desperate acts are of no consequence when compared to the instant gratification, they derive from having the power to kill or maim somebody.

While we know that the majority of young people want nothing to do with gangs and serious youth violence, for some young people violence is part of their daily lives and we need to support them to transform their thinking.

As the statistics show, and from our experience working with vulnerable young people, serious youth violence was a huge issue prior to the COVID-19 crisis. We can’t determine yet the significance of the impact of school closures during the pandemic, however, without a doubt the current crisis will have further exacerbated the grave issue of serious youth violence. COVID-19 restrictions have significantly reduced the space available for pupils who would usually be kept out of normal lessons but still onsite of the school, thus resulting in more school exclusions and more young people left exposed to the vulnerability of the streets. 

TLG Education Centres already model good practice in addressing this difficult and distressing issue and will continue to do so throughout the pandemic and beyond. Through our Education Centres, we are in a unique position to be proactive on this issue, in supporting young people and engaging communities; as well as equipping the local church to be part of the answer.

You can read more about how TLG is supporting young people at risk of serious youth violence, as well as the link between school exclusions and youth violence, in part two of this blog series.

Please support the 2021 Diocese of London Lent Appeal, which this year is focusing on Youth Violence.  The Lent Appeal, which began on Wednesday 17 February, will focus on both raising awareness of the issue, and raising money for three charities - of which TLG is one. You can find out more about the appeal here.

Deborah Barnett

Deborah Barnett

Deborah Barnett is School Development Manager and Education Policy Lead, she is London based and has worked in mainstream education, special schools and alternative provision for over twenty years. Deborah has a broad and in depth knowledge of national education policy and passionate about social and racial justice in education. She is committed to structural change to ensure all children can achieve more in schools. Her values in education are firmly linked to an inclusive, comprehensive system where all learners are valued equally.

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