“Nurture the good in children before it’s too late…” was the powerful call made recently by a bereaved mother who had lost her son to violence. And she is right. Successfully tackling violence requires us to go right back to the roots of the problems alongside effective enforcement approaches.
Chance UK was set up 20 years ago by an Islington Police Officer who saw that the teenagers he was dealing with in the Criminal Justice System were often those who were known about many years previously. He believed that with the right help and support early on this group of children could end up on a better path. Since then we’ve worked with thousands of children aged 5 – 12 with behavioural and emotional difficulties who are at risk of educational exclusion or being involved in gangs or anti-social behaviour.We provide mentoring and family support to help them regulate their emotions, improve behaviour and build resilience.
Since we first started, society’s collective understanding of the reasons why children become involved in gangs and violence have grown as has the knowledge of signs of risk. The Home Office Serious Violence Strategy launched yesterday highlighted research which showed 40% of those who were gang members had signs of severe behavioural problems before the age of 12, whilst a recent international review of evidence identified concerning signs can be seen in children as young as seven. We also know that the earlier these signs are identified and the right support put in place - the better the chance of working positively with the child and family to significantly improve life chances.
One critical element is understanding the deep impact of trauma on children. Research has shown that the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can have a lasting effect on the emotional, psychological and physical health of children and that those with 4 or more ACEs are much more at risk of a range of negative outcomes including being eight times more likely to be a perpetrator of violence.
Many of the children we work with have faced enormous levels of trauma – struggling to make sense of the violence they see at home; taking responsibility for younger siblings in order to compensate for a parent with an addiction or coming to terms with the loss of a loved one. But these negative outcomes aren’t inevitable – with the right sort of help children can be supported to recover.
There is a mainstream consensus about the importance of “early intervention” but the reality is that help is still not always early enough. In recent days we have heard much about the importance of reaching disaffected young people - but support needs to start much sooner. The National Crime Agency reports that children as young as 12 are involved in County Lines activity (travelling out of London to sell drugs in out of town locations), whilst the Children’s Commissioner highlights younger children taking bigger risks as they are less likely to be noticed and searched. We know from our work that vulnerable children can be targeted by gangs even at primary school so we must reach out to them and their families early on.
The halving of Glasgow’s murder rate over the past 10 years has become the success story we all want to emulate. Glasgow’s approach speaks of “changing the destiny of the most vulnerable in society…” Ambitious and long term it recognises that a real society level change needs to be tackled from every angle and that there are no quick or easy fixes. Work with children and families from birth onwards, early identification of children at risk and working with schools to reduce exclusion rates have all played a role. Glasgow made the difference because they have been willing to take a long term view and make sure every part of the system was working towards the same goal. It’s time for us to do the same.