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We Need to Have Faith in Our Youth, Not Call Them "Feral"

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CHILDREN TURNING INTO ANIMALS
Rex

"Feral": an adjective that most commonly precedes nouns such as "vermin"; a derogatory term synonymous with "savage" and "bestial".

A poll published by Barnados and ICM yesterday revealed that almost half of Britons believe young people are "angry, violent and abusive"; 44% of those interviewed also claimed that "children in this country are becoming feral" (http://bit.ly/tUwL8K).

These findings, I would imagine, reflect the views of those who fell privy to the media hate campaign following the riots in August.

How many times does it have to be said that instead of condemning the youth of today - those who will go on to be our teachers, doctors, bankers, leaders - we must provide for them and nurture them? What happened to the classic association of children with innocence, opportunity, and growth?

Moreover, anyone with an ounce of logic in their head will be able to work out that in reality, those "thugs" - so-called by David Cameron - were few and far between, compared to all the other teenagers out there just doing normal teenage things such as worrying about a burgeoning spot.

Sadly, the public is prone to knee-jerk reactions - for instance, signing the petition to strip rioters of their benefits; ironically this peer pressure isn't far off from the very mob mentality that played a key role in the riots themselves.

Sadder still, the government has pandered to this very view. Days after the riots, Cameron claimed that "broken society analysis" is "back at the top of my political agenda."

But what of the local youth clubs axed by the coalition's public spending cuts? In June 2010 Sir Paul Ennals, Head of the National Children's Bureau , warned that cutting back on services for young people could make them "progressively disengaged from their own communities" and would only "store up trouble for the future".

Meanwhile, the government has made radical changes to the education available for young people, by allowing universities to charge up to £9000 a year and scrapping Educational Maintenance Allowance - the primary incentive for many post-16 students to stay in full-time education.

Sure enough, just over a year after Ennal's speech, the nation stood transfixed to TV screens and Twitter feeds as young people took to the streets and looted the local off-licences. If this isn't disenfranchisement, I don't know what is.

Social worker and Director of Kids Company Camilla Batmanghelidjh condemned the post-riot attitude against British children in an Independent article, saying "caring costs - but so do riots" . What she is getting at is the coalition government's short-sighted, short-term solution to policy. It's all very well to campaign for more police on the streets - but we need the prevention, not the cure.

We need to know why young people feel so disconnected from our society - and to stop this problem worsening. People were quick to judge rioters for feeling "entitled" to the trainers they stole from JJB Sport, but perhaps re-investment in education and community services is something that would really benefit our young in the long term.

The 99% Campaign is just one of these. A youth-led initiative focusing on the fact that 99% of young Londoners do not commit criminal offences, its adverts are on the tube, in newspapers, magazines and online. It claims that ""positive thinking" is encouraged through a user-led movement of positive social engagement."

Looking at the study released today, it is crucial that campaigns such as this receive government support in order to change attitudes.

Yes, the youth of today is in crisis. But the first thing we need is to have a little faith in them.

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