9th March 2020
Knife crime in England and Wales has reached a record high, with 44,771 offences involving a knife or sharp object in the year up to September 2019. Of particular concern is the number of young boys carrying knives.
An important aspect of preventing the root causes of violence is the provision of youth services to support young people at risk of or involved in knife crime. One of the unique features of youth work services is that young people chose to engage with these services voluntarily. However, funding to youth services has been in decline, reducing the effectiveness and availability of these services. In light of this, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) conducted an inquiry into youth services and the role youth work plays in tackling serious youth violence. Here, we summarise the findings and recommendations from that inquiry.
The APPG first engaged with young people. Generally, young people considered youth services to be very valuable. Young people felt that youth workers were important as a trusted adult figure for young people, particularly for those not in mainstream education or those who do not have good relationships with their teachers. They also felt that the services provided a safe place to see friends, as well as access to structured activities such as sport. Many teenagers join gangs to gain a sense of belonging, and young people felt that that could be replaced by belonging to youth service groups. Lastly, it was felt that youth services were helpful in providing information and contact with support services and career advice.
The APPG then investigated what effective youth work looks like, with input from youth workers, academics and young people. Youth workers highlighted that adequate training is crucial for successfully building trusting relationships with young people. They also felt that youth work was most effective when it involves the local community, for example by involving them in decision-making processes, and having youth workers who live locally. These create more effective services than those imposed by higher authorities with no community input. Providing career-related activities as well as recreational activities was considered important, with the latter being helpful for allowing young people to relax and build trust in their youth workers. A wide range of recreational activities encourages more young people to become engaged with youth services.
Lastly, the role of youth services in tackling knife crime and violence was investigated. Youth services offer young people support and diversion from in serious youth violence and knife crime. Young people and youth workers agreed that youth services were vital for tackling violence by building trusting relationships with young people. It was also felt that youth work that is all-encompassing rather than just occurring in a youth centre is helpful, in order to help young people feel safer in their communities. An example of this is having youth workers embedded in hospitals, able to access young people who are hospitalised due to violence. This sort of work requires specific training and investment, such as training on how to support those who have suffered trauma.
The report found that every decline in the number of youth centres is linked with growing levels of knife crime.
The full report is available at: All-Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime and Violence Reduction (2020) Securing a Brighter Future: The role of youth services in tackling knife crime