YOUTH VIOLENCE – MPs MOVING TALES : “I have sat in the living rooms of grieving parents who have lost a precious child to knife crime”

MPs Helen Hayes and Ellie Reeves have given devastating accounts of the effects of youth violence to fellow MPs during a debate on the issue.

Dulwich and West Norwood MP Helen Hayes (Lab) told MP’s: Over the past 18 months I have sat in the living rooms of grieving parents who have lost a precious child to knife crime, and in community centres with angry and bewildered local residents who are terrified by the violence they have witnessed. I have faced questions on too many occasions, in school assemblies and youth clubs, from frightened children who ask what is being done to stop knife and gun crime in our area.

Today I am speaking for the bereaved families of Jude Gayle, Kyall Parnell, and John Ogunjobi. Jude Gayle was killed last year as he popped out to the local shop to buy ingredients for a family meal. Kyall Parnell was stabbed at a bus stop in West Norwood on new year’s eve, and John Ogunjobi was stabbed just a few weeks ago on the Tulse Hill estate, in front of his mother who had come to pick him up to try to keep him safe.

Lambeth and Southwark, the boroughs that each serve part of my constituency, have among the highest rates of knife crime in London, and among the highest volume of serious violence against young people. That level of challenge has resulted in some truly exceptional work on this issue, and I pay tribute to the organisations that work hard every day to keep young people safe, to save the lives of those who are injured, and to intervene to turn lives around.

The work of the trauma team in King’s College hospital under Duncan Bew, Malcolm Tunnicliff and Emer Sutherland is second to none. They have developed life saving techniques for gun and knife-related injuries, and they also work with the charity Redthread, under the leadership of John Poyton, on an intervention approach for young people who come to the emergency department.

There are many inspirational community organisations, such as the Dwaynamics boxing gym, which was established by Lorraine Jones who lost her son, Dwayne Simpson, to knife crime in 2014. There is the work of Lee Dema and the St Matthew’s project, which provides football coaching for young people in Brockwell park, and the Marcus Lipton youth centre led by Ira Campbell. Brixton Wings is based on the Angell Town Estate, and the Advocacy Academy empowers young people to speak truth to power on the issues that matter to them, and to work for change in their area.

The DIVERT team led by Inspector Jack Rowlands at Brixton police station—now also in Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Croydon and Lewisham—provides intensive support and intervention for young adults in police custody. It is hugely innovative and successful, and I am glad the Government recently recognised that by agreeing to extend funding for the existing programme for a further two years. Nevertheless, more commitment is needed. DIVERT should be the norm in every police station and every community where youth violence is a serious issue, and it should be funded as a part of mainstream policing. Both Lambeth and Southwark have sought to protect funding for youth services at a time when they have lost more than half their funding from central Government. Why, when there is so much good work to celebrate, is violence that affects young people continuing to increase?

The number of school exclusions has been rising in recent years, with particularly alarming increases among children eligible for free school meals and those with special educational needs, who account for almost half of exclusions. Currently, when a school excludes a child, the school’s responsibility for that child comes to an end. Since the number of academies is increasing under this Government, and academies have their own admissions authorities, in many areas it is becoming increasingly difficult for local authorities to find places for excluded children.

A child who has been excluded needs more intervention, not less, and children who end up out of school for extended periods following exclusion are surely at greater risk of becoming involved in violence, both as victims and perpetrators. More must be done to fund our schools to provide intervention and support for students whose behaviour is challenging, and to hold them to account for the outcomes for every child who has been on their roll.

There is a huge and growing gap in the funding of children’s social services, estimated by the Local Government Association—I declare my interest as a vice president of the LGA—at around £3 billion. As a consequence, children’s social services departments are stretched to breaking point. They struggle to provide their statutory safeguarding services, and find it increasingly hard to recruit and retain social workers in an environment that is often high risk. Any department under such pressure will find it hard to do the proactive, preventive, early-intervention work that can prevent adverse childhood experiences and reduce the risk of violence later in childhood.

Our youth justice system is woefully under resourced. Government rhetoric on tough sentencing may play well in communities where young people do not regularly lose their lives to guns and knives, but the reality is a court system on its knees, which allows—this happened in my constituency recently—a young person bailed in north London to travel to south London to rob school children at knifepoint the next day. Our penal system delivers the scandalously high youth reoffending rate of 41.7 per cent. Such a system must reform as well as punish, which is even more urgently the case for young offenders than for the rest of the prison population. Youth justice must be funded and resourced to do the intensive, transformative work that is needed to stop young offenders from returning to a life of violence. That is the right thing for victims as well as perpetrators and our communities more widely, and the current situation is shameful.

Access to mental health support, particularly for children and young people, remains far too difficult within early intervention and crisis services. The extent to which young people who are both the victims and perpetrators of violent crime are clinically traumatised is documented and evidenced, but still not reflected in mainstream practice in mental health services.

My final observation on this issue is the extent of the issues at local level which never register with any public services. I reflect on the conversations I have had recently with parents in my constituency. One mother told me about the number of young people with minor knife injuries who she has patched up in her kitchen because they are too scared to go to hospital, and how some of them have then become too scared to leave their own homes.

She came to see me because she was struggling to support another mother whose child had been traumatised by the violence he had experienced and spent his days smashing up his mother’s home.

Another mother told me how she will not let her 16-year-old pop out to the shop on her estate because: “I don’t know which gang is going to be there and whether he will come back.”

The public health approach to youth violence has to mean more than words. The measure of the Government’s commitment to the public health approach in my constituency will be whether it relieves the anxiety of those mothers who are fearful every time their teenagers leave the house and whether it stops the killing.

Next week, when I see the family of John Ogunjobi who was recently stabbed to death, I want to be able to look them in the eye and say that that this is going to stop and that other families will not have to suffer their agony. Under this Government, I do not believe I can do so.



Ellie Reeves Labour, Lewisham West and Penge told MPs:

At the beginning of November, a 15-year-old child, Jay Hughes, was killed in Bellingham in my constituency. Less than 72 hours on from that tragic event, a 22-year-old, Ayodeji Habeeb Azeez, was killed in Anerley, just a year on from the murder of teenager Michael Jonas, which shocked the community back in 2017.

These killings have utterly shaken our community, and constituents have expressed to me their fear for their family’s safety. No parent should have to harbour such concerns. No family should have to lose their child to violent crime. Similarly, no young person should be so bereft of opportunity and aspiration that they feel that violent crime is a path to follow. But this is the situation that we find ourselves in.

We are in the midst of a youth violence crisis. I will turn to the causes, but before that, I want to say how heartened I have been by the community’s response in Lewisham West and Penge. In the face of such tragic circumstances, they have shown strength and determination to bring our communities closer. I mention not least the work of the Bellingham community project, Youth First, the local police, Elfrida and Athelney primary schools in Bellingham, and Stewart Fleming primary school and the Samos Road community in Anerley.

But as much as the community has worked to rebuild what has been lost, they cannot do this on their own. Tackling youth violence requires work from an array of public services in co-operation with our communities. Sadly, ever since 2010 we have seen some of the most devastating cuts made to our public services, especially the Metropolitan police, which has faced £1 billion of cuts since 2010, with further savings to be found over the next few years.

As a result, we have seen the loss of 30 per cent of police staff and 65pc of police community support officers. Our police do a fantastic job, but in the wards that I represent, we have, at most, two ward officers and one PCSO per ward. They are fantastic, but they are overstretched. It is inevitable that with reduced police visibility and presence in our neighbourhoods, relationships with communities deteriorate, trust is eroded, and opportunities for crime arise.

The Met urgently needs more funding so that it can work to prevent crime rather than just reacting to it. But youth violence is not just a question of police funding and enforcement. The causes are extremely complex and involve societal problems such as poverty, adverse childhood experiences and lack of opportunity.

Tackling youth violence therefore requires a public health approach, which means addressing the environments that make people vulnerable to the risk of crime. We have talked about the example of Glasgow, where the violence reduction unit teamed up with agencies in the fields of health, education and social work, and the police force became the first in the world to adopt a public health approach.

As a result, recorded crime in Scotland is now at a 40-year low. There are lessons to be learned from that, but it will work only if we join up health, education, youth services, housing, the Home Office and the justice system. Yet all those departments have been cut as part of the Government’s austerity agenda.

For example, the Government spend less than 1pc of the NHS budget on children’s mental health, with many children waiting many months for treatment and often being turned away for not meeting the threshold. In the case of education, schools in my constituency tell me that they can identify children who are vulnerable from as young as three years old, because they may have older siblings or other family members in gangs. That is the point at which intervention is really needed, but schools can barely afford to go on as they are, so intervening to carry out that sort of work becomes increasingly difficult. Similarly, we have seen Sure Start centres have their budgets cut, and the loss of things like youth clubs and youth projects across the country.

The Minister mentioned St Giles Trust in her opening remarks, and I pay tribute to it for the work that it does. It was running a fantastic county lines pilot project down in Kent for six months, but then the funding from the Home Office dried up. That is the reality of the situation that we are working in. These projects need funding in order to carry on doing their work. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Vicky Foxcroft for the work that she has done on the Youth Violence Commission—she has campaigned on this issue tirelessly—and also to the Mayor of London, who, despite restricted budgets, has launched the youth violence reduction unit. Such agencies desperately need money so that they can carry out this vital work.

We cannot bring back those we have already lost, but we can take action to prevent more from losing their lives. We can help prevent our vulnerable young people from turning to crime, and we can offer them aspiration and a stake in our society. What is needed is the funding and the political will. (Public Health Model to Reduce Youth Violence 13 Dec 2018 Source: TheyWorkForYou)


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