Summit offers solutions to youth violence

National knife crime summit offers the chance to extend the best local practice, says youth work leader.

The Serious Youth Violence Summit brought together experts from a range of backgrounds to explore what a public health approach to tackling serious violence against young people might look like in practice.

It was an important step in joining up government departments, public sector bodies, voluntary organisations and business to develop a unified approach.

To implement a public health approach, the problem must be defined and we must understand what the causes are to ensure we address the underlying risk factors.

The Home Office has defined the problem in the UK through its Serious Violence Strategy which sets out data on rising knife crime levels. It reveals a worrying increase in serious violence both in and beyond Greater London.

At UK Youth, we have witnessed the impact of this on young people in our network who have been perpetrators or victims of knife crime in areas as diverse as Devon, Coventry and Liverpool.

Effective interventions

Using this knowledge, we can develop and test interventions locally, and use these findings to replicate effective interventions regionally or nationally.

Alongside the data, understanding the nature of the problem is dependent on talking to the people who experience it every day; the young people with lived experience, their family members and friends, community members, and wider society. Conversations with these people and youth workers, teachers, community leaders and police highlight a complex web of interconnecting factors that lead to a rise in violence. Putting their voices at the heart of decision making is crucial.

I have spoken to young people across the UK about the problem and what changes they would like to see. They highlighted poverty, discrimination, lack of opportunity, narrow or insecure social networks, a school system that has failed them, few positive adult role models, poor mental health, and cited a lack of co-operation between service providers.

Equipped with insights like these, we can work together to develop appropriate interventions. A public health approach is not about a single intervention operating in isolation, but multiple interventions being made available across the whole population - local, regional or national - to prevent young people being drawn into violence.

We need to invest resources where they are needed most, including areas experiencing the highest overall levels of knife crime - Greater London, Greater Manchester, West Midlands and West Yorkshire - and where knife crime is rising fastest - for example, Kent, South Yorkshire, Cleveland and Hertfordshire.

However, geographic targeting on its own can fail to recognise variation within local populations or the movement of people. The connection between serious violence, poverty and county lines makes this a particularly important consideration.

There is a growing understanding around what works, and initiatives such as the Youth Endowment Fund, the cross-party Youth Violence Commission and the Violence Reduction Units are vital sources of information and funding for evidence-based interventions.

Public health approaches

Public health approaches have already been adopted in areas including Glasgow, Hackney, Reading and Cardiff. These provide helpful insights into the challenges and benefits of an integrated strategy. All involve multiple agencies working together to deliver a range of interventions to prevent serious violence.

Delivery should take place through established local youth and community organisations that understand the complexity of the challenge, work in partnership with local government and can make a long-term commitment to its resolution.

UK Youth and the Dartington Service Design Lab are advocating the creation of a series of "local collective action hubs" across the country, generating youth-led insights about the causes and consequences of youth crime to create an unparalleled national "public health view", while still capturing all the unique knowledge, experience and local variation across different places and contexts.

Prime Minister Theresa May's commitment to tackling youth violence represents an opportunity to embed best practice on a nationwide scale.

I was encouraged by the government's announcements of a range of key measures including a youth charter that UK Youth have been lobbying for, a ministerial taskforce and serious violence team in the Cabinet Office to support cross-departmental co-ordination, mental health provision for victims of knife crime, a consultation on the legal duty to ensure public bodies work together (see below), and investment into sporting opportunities for young people.

Let's hope this marks the beginning of a long-term, strategic move by government towards a nationwide, multi-agency public health approach to tackling serious violence.

New legal duty proposal

Also at the summit, Home Secretary Sajid Javid launched a consultation on introducing a new multi-agency public health duty which would be placed on frontline public sector staff including teachers, health workers and social workers.

The approach focuses on spotting warning signs that a young person could be in danger of becoming a victim or offender, such as worrying behaviour at home or school, or presenting at A&E with a suspicious injury.

Similar approaches have been used in Scotland and Wales, says the Home Office, and are designed to ensure every part of the system works together to make "targeted interventions".

The consultation - which closes at 11.45pm on 28 May - is open to the public and professionals.

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