Breaking the cycle of youth violence

Violent crimes, such as murders and gun and knife crime, account for around 1 per cent of all crime. But the impact of them on society is huge in terms of lives and communities destroyed.

So it is worrying that, in recent years, the number of these offences reported has started to rise in England and Wales. Why? One factor is likely to be better reporting. But there is evidence to suggest the increase is genuine, with police reports, hospital records and crime surveys all showing similar trends.

Key steps for councils

  1. Encourage a multi-agency approach and make sure any strategy addresses the root causes: childhood trauma, social inequality, poverty, mental health problems, and education and training.
  2. Help young offenders into employment and training to ‘break the cycle’.
  3. Engage the community. Good options include recruiting community mentors and supporting youth clubs.
  4. Work with schools. They can provide valuable intelligence about who is at risk and help deliver universal interventions to children.
  5. Start young. Many of the most proactive councils are working with pupils at the end of primary school.
  6. Language is important. Young people caught up in crime are victims as well.
  7. Collect the data. Analysing A&E attendances and arrests can identify trends and hotspots.
  8. Streamline referral systems. Some councils are setting up hubs to review and assess cases.
  9. Make sure parents and carers know the signs so they can spot early if children are being exploited.
  10. Consider working with other groups – such as taxi drivers, train staff and security guards – as they may be able to spot changes in behaviour and the arrival of criminal gangs.

One of the most striking findings is that the rises are not limited to major cities. Nearly all police forces have seen an increase. This is at least partly because of the ‘county lines’ phenomenon, in which drug-selling gangs from major urban areas – such as London, Birmingham and Liverpool – exploit children, young people and vulnerable adults to commit crimes and supply drugs to markets elsewhere.

Councils have had to prioritise protecting the most vulnerable and are well aware of the growing number of children in care, or young people with mental health problems, who are particularly susceptible to exploitation by these criminal networks.

While there is good evidence that enforcement can play a vital role in tackling this, the Government has made it clear more needs to be done on prevention and early intervention.

This is where councils can step in. Whether it is to do with education, social care, health, housing or employment, local government is in a prime position to use its influence to protect and support young people.

The LGA has recently published case studies showing how councils are stepping up to the challenge. There are universal interventions that target whole populations, such as Liverpool’s work with secondary schools. Other projects are more targeted, helping those young people who are beginning to fall into a life of crime.

There is, of course, much more that can be done. Councils are, in many ways, just at the beginning of this journey to curb violent crime, with growing evidence that the key is a ‘public health approach’ – treating it as a disease that can be cured. By working together with our local partners, we can make a difference.

‘Breaking the cycle of youth violence’ can be downloaded free at www.local.gov.uk/publications

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