The government published its serious violence strategy in April 2018. The strategy was the government's response to rising concerns over youth knife crime, criminal exploitation of children and "county lines" drug gangs.
A year on, and youth knife crime continues to hit the headlines, prompting concerns that the strategy has failed to deliver the swift action needed.
Measures in the strategy focused on four key areas: tackling county lines and drugs; earlier intervention to prevent crime; law enforcement; and supporting communities, with additional funding included to help achieve this (see below).
While welcoming the focus on supporting grassroots community organisations to tackle the problem, some voluntary sector leaders have warned that the short-term nature of funding is preventing them from implementing sustainable interventions that tackle the causes of young people getting involved in violent crime.
STRATEGY KEY INITIATIVES
- A new £22m Early Intervention Youth Fund to support communities for early intervention and prevention with young people for 2018/19 and 2019/20
- Development of a new National County Lines Co-ordination Centre to tackle violent and exploitative criminal activity associated with county lines gangs
- Funding to help deliver a new round of heroin and crack action areas
- More rounds of the anti-knife crime Community Fund of up to £1m for 2018/19 and 2019/20
- More funding for young people's advocates working with gang-affected young women and girls
Nathan Singleton, chief executive of LifeLine Projects, says his charity has experience of this in the work it does with vulnerable young people in parts of east and south London. It offers mentoring to young people disengaged with mainstream school to prevent exclusion, a key risk factor in committing crime.
"Alternative provision [schools] are a grooming ground for gangs - it brings all the problems together," he says. The charity's Dare to Succeed programme is aimed at working with pupils who have been identified by their school as being at risk of exclusion or ending up not in education, employment or training (Neet) when they leave.
He says there are two typical profiles of the young people LifeLine Projects works with: those who don't do well at school and have "all the risk factors"; and others who do well at school, attend regularly and have supportive parents but "get drawn into crime".
"We work with both, but the second group is more difficult to identify," says Singleton.
In the past seven years, the charity has worked with 1,000 young people across 50 schools who struggled in mainstream education. This can involve providing mentoring for young people in school, while in other cases it provides education for young people at its own independent school.
Alternative to PRUs
Singleton says this was developed in response to schools wanting an alternative to pupil referral units for challenging young people to get back on track.
"We work with young people aged 14 to 16 on a full-time basis to get qualifications," he explains. "These are likely to be the young people targeted by gangs to be recruited as foot soldiers. They are the ones most at risk of violence."
The school focuses on fostering strong relationships between staff, students and parents, and tailoring a learning package to suit the individual's needs.
It uses a framework to engage young people called Vision, Identity and Purpose - or VIP - to help them develop a positive vision about who they want to be.
In addition to academic studies, the curriculum includes vocational training, business skills, work placements, the chance to take part in further enrichment activities and support from volunteer mentors.
Qualifications enable students to progress on to accredited Level 3 courses and/or A levels.
"We want to get to young people before violence happens," says Singleton. "We want to work with those at risk rather than waiting for them to stab someone and getting involved with the youth offending service. Once they are in the system, it is very difficult to get out of it."
Dare to Succeed is funded by the European Social Fund, but too many other funding streams are short term, adds Singleton. He cites the case of a young person who LifeLine worked with under a different programme that was funded for six months. The young person had been involved in knife crime and successfully left this behind, but when the support ended he returned to it.
"These young people need to be worked with for four to five years," he says. "If we start working with a young person at 14, by the time they are 18 we can see them becoming a leader. You have to integrate them into positive youth activities in the community. Having a consistent mentor makes a real difference."
The Youth Violence Strategy has provided £22m for grassroots youth organisations to deliver interventions to tackle violent crime.
Singleton backs the emphasis the policy places on community organisations working in partnership with each other and schools to tackle the issue.
"Partnership approaches are good - we share with other organisations and partner with schools, which is important," he says. "Parent partnerships are also essential - parents not being in denial is also important. We work with faith groups, but communities need to step in to offer more help."
Another key factor is the role played by youth workers, which Singleton says "is vital".
He says police still tend to staff their gangs units with police officers, while schools get money to employ extra teachers or teaching support staff to address behaviour problems.
"Both would do better to partner with youth workers," he says. "Multi-agency working is a challenge and youth workers are good at it because they are flexible in their approach.
"Sometimes we think youth workers are a cheap option - £20,000 a year to work with some of the most ‘at risk' young people. They might be cheaper than a teacher, but it's about recognising the flexibility of their skills. We do a lot of parenting by stealth through youth work. Parents will open the front door to a youth worker, but not for the police or a social worker."