The news is bleak. A young man is stabbed in London, another in Glasgow. Another murder, another young life lost. Another family grieves, another parent inconsolable and left with the questions of why?
The media is full of it. Headlines about young people out of control, carrying knives, running drugs and belonging to gangs. The agenda in the press quickly turns to blame, whose fault is it? It must be the Police’s fault, there is not enough police on the street to stop these hooligans. The need is to arrest those with knives, give them a criminal record, lock them up and throw away the key.
The national press is only interested in national news, they don’t want to have to go into our local communities to find out what is really going on. They are only interested in the big targets at a national level and as always, it’s easy to label young people as hooligans, thugs, murderers and misfits, which just alienates them further.
While a well-resourced, visible and available police force is required to keep our communities safe, this is only treating the symptoms and not the root causes.
Research has shown countless times that what young people need to grow and develop into balanced, emotionally intelligent members of society is someone who cares for them. That “one good adult”, not just somebody who provides money, shelter and the clothes on their back. Young people need trusted, consistent role models who set clear, safe boundaries. People who have the time to listen, empathise and really care for them.
In today’s society, where more and more households are struggling with poverty, unsociable working hours, low wages, zero-hour contracts and financial uncertainty, the reality for many young people is that they have no role models or support to meet their needs. Surrounded by negative temptation, to take their mind off their circumstances and numb the pain, they use drugs, gambling, gaming and alcohol as a means of escape.
We must understand and accept that behaviours are needs-driven. People do anti-social things to meet their needs, to survive. Whether it be stealing for money to give them buying power, taking drugs to feel amazing, joining gangs to belong, carrying knives to protect themselves or attacking others to gain respect, it is a product of their environment and opportunities.
I am very blessed to have a supportive wife, close friends, a home that I own and a job that I am passionate about doing. Most of my needs for survival, fun, power, love and belonging and freedom are regularly met by my environment and opportunities.
Young people living in poverty will strive to meet their needs. In order to survive, they are influenced to carry a knife for safety, steal a car for fun, join a gang to be respected and run drugs for freedom and money. Their needs are met with negative, destructive and unhealthy behaviours.
So how do we turn things around? How do we empower young people to change their lives?
North of the border, the Scottish Government’s Safer Communities Scotland Directorate, set up the Violence Reduction Unit in 2005 with the aim of reducing knife crime in Glasgow. Its key message was that gang-related stabbings and slashings were not just a policing issue, but a public health issue. The unit’s motto was a simple one: “Violence is preventable, not inevitable.” In the last decade homicides in Scotland have more than halved.
In the same timescale, government funding on youth work in England has been reduced by 62%. This action has cost 3,000 youth workers their jobs and 140,000 young people a reliable, safe place. That is 140,000 young people who might not have that much needed, consistent, trusted adult in their life.
The solution to knife crime is NOT more police on the streets, it is NOT more stop and searches. The answer is more youth work, more trained, caring, workers who can engage with young people as they go through the difficult transition from childhood to adulthood. Give each of these young people that “one good adult” who cares, who will listen, who will engage with them where and when they want. Only then will we be able to inspire and encourage these young people, who are full of potential, to make lasting changes in their lives and meet their needs in a positive and dynamic way. The solution is to give them HOPE, hope for a better life, hope for the future and hope for their communities.