Looking after our young people
The most vulnerable young people see hope when they are supported by a team of knowledgeable and committed adults who stick with them. We need to treat every incident of youth violence, and potential incident, in such a way that it does not spread elsewhere.
The recommendations of the Youth Violence Commission, and a key principle of every Violence Reduction Unit, include treating the issue as a ‘public health’ concern. Since March 2020 this phrase could not have had more exposure, and the same applies for the expectations of every individual. Some public health officials have become household names and at times the population has hung on their every word in high profile briefings. We have all been told, instructed even, that we each have a part to play and we need to treat every incident in the most serious terms to ensure it does not spread elsewhere.
We are living through a time when eye-watering sums have been spent on economic support for the country as a result of the pandemic. It is not young people who have been most at risk although it is fair to say that plenty have been at a higher risk of infection than others depending on their home circumstances. Self-isolation is not easy for anyone but it remains a privilege. The focus of everyone’s attention, and the basics of the government’s strategy, has been on protecting the most vulnerable.
At the time of writing it looks as though a series of vaccines will provide the solution to the pandemic. We have moved from covid-19 as something we may have to live with to something we may soon be without, although the debt will be with us for many years. Sadly there is no exact replica of the vaccine for resolving serious youth violence but there are equivalents, and within them there is hope.
The statistics show that far too many young people at high risk of being involved in, and exposed to, serious violence. When the pandemic is over, our attention as a society should turn back to this vulnerable group and ensure they get the necessary support and investment. They need to see that the rest of the country is looking after them. After all, it will be this generation who contributes the most in their working lives to paying off the financial impact of the pandemic. We need to treat every incident of youth violence, and potential incident, in such a way that it does not spread elsewhere.
The most vulnerable young people see hope when they are supported by a team of knowledgeable and committed adults who stick with them. Many young people, unfortunately, have good reason not to trust adults and they can take some time to be convinced otherwise. Resourcing a team of adults required to work with those at risk is expensive and requires sustained investment. High quality relationships cost and they are worth every penny.
Some of those investments have come up short in recent years. Many mainstream schools do not have the resources they once had to support those who need it most. Some local authorities have instigated the practice of ‘spot funding’ alternative provision places, which not only should be seen as a straight cut but also creates a great deal of avoidable uncertainty for these institutions. The youth work sector is a fraction of the size it used to be and a generation of skills and support has gone with it.
Young people have seen their education at risk during the pandemic. The farces around A level and GCSE examination results did not help to instil much confidence amongst young people. As of now the same applies to those due to take those examinations in 2021 despite the fact they have been back in school for months and the impact of lockdown in terms of missed time well known. It will be the most vulnerable who are most at risk of not getting the grades they deserve.
Funding is not the vaccine but when spent wisely and on the basis of available research it can and will make a significant difference. Prior to lockdown it occurred to me that in the twenty years since the murder of Damilola Taylor we do not have much evidence for sustained progress over this period of time. Let’s create some and now have the public health principles we have all become so familiar with as the driving force.
Alex Atherton – former secondary school headteacher. Education lead for the cross-party Youth Violence Commission