Members of the Youth Violence Commission were not able to answer all of the questions posted at the Final Word event on July 16th, so we are answering them in writing below. These answers are written by Keir Irwin-Rogers, Luke Billingham and Abhinay Muthoo, the Youth Violence Commission Final Report co-authors.
You can also view the responses as a pdf here: #TheFinalWord Q&A Responses
|Karen Murray 02:21 PM
Agree that school exclusions are something we need to address but the governance of schools in England is different to Scotland. How do you see this being taken forward?
Faith Agba-Butler 02:34 PM
how do you think the youth violence reduction unit will impact the school to prison pipeline in London?
The two main mechanisms identified by the Commission as having good potential to reduce school exclusions were: 1) Ofsted revising their inspection frameworks to strongly disincentivise and deter schools from excluding their pupils; and 2) Government investing significant resources into schools to facilitate enhanced support and inclusion.
The regional Violence Reduction Units have an important role to play in tackling the PRU (Pupil Referral Unit) to prison pipeline, primarily by supporting efforts to keep young people included within mainstream schools. This could include raising awareness of the links between pupil exclusions and young people’s likelihood of becoming involved in serious violence, convening schools to encourage and support their efforts to avoid exclusions, and investing in local level school interventions designed to reduce pupil exclusions.
|graham goulden 02:39 PM
Why can’t we lose the term PRU – It’s still a school…….
Bev Clarke 02:40 PM
PRU’s need to be replaced and become skill centres as many just seem themselves as a holding establishment. Are there any plans for this?
The Commission agrees with the sentiment behind both of these questions. It is important to highlight that the Commission recognises the huge effort and good work that occurs in many Pupil Referral Units (PRUs). The primary problem, however, is with the process and experience of a child being ‘excluded’ from mainstream education. The damage this does to young people’s self-identity and life prospects is immense, regardless of the level and quality of support they receive in PRUs. Unfortunately, despite many members of staff working incredibly hard in these institutions, by their very nature – being places in which young people excluded from mainstream education are grouped together – they can be highly volatile and challenging environments.
The Commission considers inclusion in mainstream education, underpinned by enhanced levels of resources and school cultures with care and nurturing at their core, to be the best option for the vast majority of children and young people. In cases where this is not possible, the Commission agrees that terms such as ‘Pupil Referral Units’ are not helpful. This applies equally to the term ‘exclusion’. It is not difficult to see why a young person being subject to an ‘exclusion’ is likely to experience a significant and adverse shift in their self-identity, hopes and aspirations – and to see why this negative shift (accompanied by reduced pro-social opportunities and increased exposure to anti-social influences) is likely to increase young people’s propensity to become involved in serious violence.
|Bev Clarke 02:42 PM
What things are being done to ensure that society does not continue to see youth violence as only a Black Caribbean issue?
The Commission recognises that serious violence affects young people of all ethnic backgrounds. Rates of serious violence between young people broadly reflect the ethnic makeup of young populations. So, for example, the vast majority of serious violence between young people in Glasgow involves white young people, whereas a higher proportion of violence in relatively diverse cities such as London affects black young people.
It is true that in cities such as London, rates of violence involving black young people are higher than would be expected based on the ethnic breakdown of the young population alone. In its final report, the Commission has highlighted some of the factors that are likely contributors to this reality, including higher rates of school exclusion for black young people compared to their white peers, higher rates of stop and search for black young people compared to their white peers, and higher rates of poverty and other forms of social exclusion.
The Commission considers it important to challenge media-driven narratives that promote the idea that serious violence between young people is an issue that overwhelmingly affects black young people. This is factually incorrect and encourages dangerous and misleading stereotypes that can further stigmatise and alienate already stigmatised and alienated communities.
|Jake Lake 02:42 PM
How will commissioners advocate for the transference of money/wealth/assets to communities to ensure that poverty is not a driving factor for young people getting into risky or violent behaviour?
The Commission is clear that poverty and inequality are fundamental drivers of serious violence between young people, and the reasons for this are outlined in the final report. The Commission had made a raft of recommendations designed to ensure substantial investment in communities, and enhanced levels of help and support to children and young people who face the most complicated difficulties.
These recommendations include significantly increased investment in schools, youth services, employment initiatives for young people, social housing and early years support.
The Commission also calls for wider, national political and economic changes, to ensure that both inequality and poverty are substantially and sustainably reduced.
|Alex Stevens 02:45 PM
I would like to ask the commissioners: how significant is the role of illicit drug markets in driving youth violence, and what changes to drug policies could reduce youth violence?
Evidence provided to the Commission indicates that illicit drug markets drive violence between young people in two main ways. First, and most obviously, young people’s involvement in street-level drug distribution leaves them at heightened risk of violence, as either a victim or perpetrator. While it is difficult to ascertain precisely how many young people are involved in illicit drug markets, most estimates appear to suggest the number is somewhere in the tens of thousands. There is a lack of good data revealing the reasons underpinning specific incidents of violence. For example, a violent incident being flagged as ‘gang related’ (a crude proxy for the incident bearing some relation to drug markets) by the police typically means that either the victim, the perpetrator or both were known or believed to be involved in gangs. The incident itself, however, might have had nothing to do with their gang involvement. Equally, just because an incident is not flagged as gang-related, does not mean that it was unrelated to gang activity (it may not have been flagged as gang related due to a lack of intelligence).
Secondly, illicit drug markets can indirectly contribute to heightened risk of violence within particular communities. While it is difficult to estimate the extent to which illicit drug markets are directly responsible for serious violence between young people, it also difficult to estimate their indirect effects. Evidence provided to the Commission suggested that the presence of illicit drug market activity in particular areas/communities – and therefore of young people carrying weapons and dealing drugs in this areas/communities – raised levels of fear and anxiety among young people living in this areas/communities. As a consequence, these young people – who may have nothing to do with illicit drug markets or gangs – are more likely to carry weapons to help them feel safe. In turn, high rates of weapon carrying increase the likelihood of any altercation between young people (for whatever reason) resulting in serious levels of violence.
|Lyndsey 02:47 PM
It would be interesting to hear if the commissioners recognised and presented the link between the reduction in funds for services to provide for young people’s health and wellbeing services, particularly substance misuse and emotional wellbeing services as a pivotal part in supporting the reduction of youth violence?
The Commission received evidence indicating serious deficiencies in terms of the quality and quantity of services to support young people’s physical and mental health and wellbeing. Often thresholds for support were concerningly high, meaning that young people who might have benefited from support were not able to receive it until it was too late (e.g. they had caused serious injury to another, or had been seriously injured themselves).
The Commission has recommended that enhanced funding to schools should support the provision of mental health counsellors in all primary and secondary schools, as well as recommending that funding for youth services should include provision for adequate mental health training for frontline professionals.
|Paul Andell 02:48 PM
Fantastic hosting and contributions. My question for commissioners relate to young people and the criminal justice system , did commissioners consider recommendations regarding raising the age of criminal responsibility which currently is one of the lowest in the world?
The Commission has provided clear support for diversionary activities and initiatives that keep young people outside the formal youth/criminal justice systems. While raising the age of criminal responsibility is not something that the Commission specifically recommended, this would be entirely in line with the fundamental principles underpinning the Commission’s recommendations on policing and criminal justice (pp.64-65).
|Take Back The Power 02:50 PM
Dear Commissioners, Attempts to reduce violence so far have been largely ineffective and usually are implemented by people who represent a system which is structurally violent towards young people. We hope that you agree with us that it is time for radical change. We know that it is a challenge to engage young people who have experienced violence because of everything that they have been through, and because of how they are viewed by this system, and how they view that system. But the amazing panellists you heard from today prove that it is not impossible, when input is paid for, and feels worthwhile. What practical steps will you be taking to ensure that any implementation of VRUs / a Public Health Approach is definitely going to be led by young people and their expertise, and not by the usual suspects (eg. politicians and the police)?
We welcome this comment and share the sentiment underpinning it. In all areas of policy affecting young people, we believe that young people should be at the heart of decision-making – not in a tokenistic manner, but in a way which ensures that young people are equal partners in discussions, are paid for their time, receive the support they need, and feel comfortable to hold adults to account. The Commission hopes that all VRUs across the country will create structures and initiatives to enable this.
The Commission has plans to facilitate link-ups between the young people on the event launch panel and the advisory panels of young people being established by regional Violence Reduction Units.
|PowelM04 02:50 PM
How can we get senior leaders with Councils, Police and others to sign up to the aims and recommendations of the YVC report? How can the report be championed by others where there is not a VRU as this is a countrywide challenge?
While the Commission believes the VRUs have a key role to play in championing and pursuing many of the recommendations in the final report, there are many ways in which other individuals and organisations can help to promote the recommendations contained in the final report. Helping to raise awareness of the report is one initial and important step. The Commission generated a welcome degree of relatively positive media coverage during the week in which the report was launched – this has been helped by people distributing the report within their professional networks and sharing it over various forms of social media. The Commission would also encourage all professionals and young people with an interest in the Commission’s work to discuss the final report with those who may be similarly interested and able to act on the Commission’s main findings and recommendations. The Commission is in the process of putting together an action and engagement plan to promote its key recommendations in the coming weeks and months.
|Emily Thompson 02:52 PM
Who will be holding the VRUs to account once they are set up?
An independent evaluator has been put in place by the Home Office to hold the VRUs to account. In addition to this formal layer of accountability, we encourage any professional or member of the public to look into the work of their local VRU and engage with these units where possible. Other external sources of accountability include the media, who continue to show an interest in this area and have already run a number of stories focused on the VRU’s work.
|Peter Babudu 02:53 PM
What roles do the Commission think young people should be empowered to play in helping reduce levels of youth violence? Peter Babudu, Head of Evidence, Youth Endowment Fund
Any attempts to reduce levels of serious violence between young people that neglect the voices of young people are severely undermining their potential to be effective. While young people cannot be expected to have all of the answers, they do bring perspectives and insights that are central to understanding and responding to serious youth violence.
All organisations working to improve the lives of young people should have carefully considered and sufficiently detailed plans to engage young people in a genuine, proactive and meaningful way. This could include regular meetings (online or face-to-face) with diverse groups of young people to better understand their challenges, fears, hopes and aspirations. These meetings should provide sufficient space for young people to discuss their experiences and views in an open and safe way, and all young people should be adequately compensated for their time. Following these meetings, efforts should be made to provide feedback to young people on how their input is being used to inform the work of the organisation, and if certain views/recommendations cannot be acted upon, explanations should be given as to why this is the case. Structures should be in place to ensure that all young people participating in these kind of activities have the support that they need, given the nature of the discussions they may be taking part in.
In short, therefore, young people should be empowered to play meaningful and substantive advisory roles in support of all groups, organisations and institutions whose work involves or effects young people.
Depending on the specific roles, remit and resources available to particular organisations, it may be appropriate for young people to hold full-time or part-time posts, leading, for example, on the work around engaging other young people and helping to ensure voices of young people remain at the core of the organisation’s work on an ongoing basis.
|lisa 02:53 PM
I am really trying to understand about defunding the police. Coming from background of supporting victims, I just wonder how victims will be supported. Is there any organisations explaining more about defunding the police so the community get a better understanding of why and how this will work? I agree things within the police system needs to change but I also want general public to feel safe.
There is a lot of misinformation about individuals and groups that are calling for the police to be defunded, as well as misinformation about precisely what is being called for. This is made complicated by the fact that defunding the police means different things to different people, and those calling for the police to be defunded do not agree on precisely what this should mean.
In short, defunding the police does not mean abolishing the police, but it does mean divesting police budgets and increasing investment into services that (it is argued) are better suited to doing work that is currently undertaken by the police. You can find out more information about defund the police initiatives from various sources online (to get a balanced view, it helps to view more than one of these sources), e.g.:
|Sandra Beeton 02:54 PM
How can the proven need to fund youth services be reconciled with increased spending on police to tackle youth violence? Aren’t the two related ?
The Commission is advocating for a substantial increase in funding for youth services, which provide vital forms of help, support and opportunity to young people.
The Commission recognises the scale of cuts to policing in recent years that has decimated the police’s capacity to fulfil some of its core functions. Most notably, evidence was provided to the Commission suggesting that neighbourhood and community policing had been severely stripped back in recent years, leading to a massive loss of intelligence, based on relationships with members of the public in local communities. Evidence suggests that public trust and confidence in policing is an important factor in tackling (violent) crime, and therefore the Commission recommends that any (re)investment in policing ought to be dedicated primarily to restoring neighbourhood and community policing capacity.
|michael carver 02:55 PM
Thanks so much for this event, for the final report and for everyone’s time today sharing their brilliant insights (agree so much re: exclusions and police accountability). My question is: given 4 of the 8 recommendations in the final report involve an increase in funding of some sort, how can we ensure this is taken seriously by an austere government who evidently do not have a strong social focus, and bracing for an exit from the EU? How does this progress from recommendations to reality?
Especially given the possibility of reduced government spending due to the impact of Covid-19, we are deeply concerned about the government providing the necessary financial support in the various areas and services. We make this point clearly at the very start of the report.
The best way to persuade the government of the need to provide the necessary resources, financial and otherwise, is in particular by showing them the evidence of the huge benefits of even a small amount of resources.
For example, based on current funding levels, the total cost of running the 18 regional VRUs for 10 years is £350 million. As shown in the report, the total economic and social cost of serious youth violence would be £10 billion over the coming 10 years (assuming the rates of violence continue at the current levels). This is of a totally different magnitude. So one needs for the government to appreciate these sorts of numbers – to then realise how much sense it makes to support our recommendations.
|Annu Mayor 02:55 PM
I sit on the Newham Youth Safety Board in east London. The Board has researched the Scotland VRU model. However, there are big differences between tackling serious youth crime in Scotland and Newham – namely the lack of trust with the police, disproportionate stop and search with young black males in London. I would be interested in hearing from the commissioners on how London can adopt a VRU model to be just as successful as Scotland with these challenges?
The Commission fully accepts the differences between Glasgow and London in terms of understanding and responding to serious violence between young people. Many of the initiatives undertaken in Scotland, however, such as the reduction in school exclusions, and increased support to young people leaving custody or treated in accident and emergency units, hold equal potential in London.
It is true that London faces additional/alternative challenges, particularly around (even) lower levels of trust and confidence in the police in certain communities (in part driven by factors such as the disproportionate use of stop and search on young black males). This is precisely the sort of problem/challenge, however, that VRUs are set up to tackle – for example, by gathering evidence on the nature of the problem and then investing in and/or conducting initiatives designed to solve the problem. Whether or not violence ultimately declines in cities such as London will be influenced by many factors outside of the VRUs control, meaning that they cannot be held solely responsible for fluctuations in levels of violence (whether positive or negative). VRUs can, however, use any power or resources at their disposal to ensure that the public health approach adopted in London is responsive to local challenges and needs.
|Emily Thompson 03:00 PM
How will the recommendations being implemented vary between different regions so the resources and money being put into different areas is proportional to the levels of youth violence within each region?
Very good question. So there are currently 18 regional VRUs who have received different amounts of funding for a two year period. This can be seen here. That said, our report (in Part 2) present evidence and analysis of levels of violence by region – and associated economics and social costs by region – and we would hope for this data to inform the allocation of resources by region.
It is also worth emphasising that the various recommendations in the report will need to be adapted (customised) according to local conditions and specifics (the regional VRUs have a key role to play in this process).
|MACKA_TM 03:02 PM
Just considering the points made by Dean with regard to policing. Police and Crime Commissioners were created to facilitate greater police accountability to the public. Do the report commissioners feel that more needs to be done by PCCs in improving the relationships between the public and police (especially young people)?
From the evidence presented to the Commission, it appears that many young people are not aware of the role that PCCs play, and do not consider them a relevant agency when it comes to police accountability. This is one reason why many young people – such as Dean – are interested in the potential of more community-based, localised bodies to hold the police to account. Though we haven’t put forward a specific recommendation around this in the report, we welcome the endeavour to reform relevant structures and agencies within policing so that young people feel that they are properly and constructively held to account, in a manner which supports their legitimacy in the community.
|Bev Clarke 03:10 PM
Within education are there any recommendations for enhancements to the curriculum, training for teachers on diversity and bias etc?
The Commission calls for an aspiration to zero exclusions. Given the disproportionate rates of exclusions among Black students, we would argue that an essential component of the work undertaken to reduce exclusions will be looking at teacher training and curricula to ensure that our education system does not discriminate on the basis of race in any way.
|Bev Clarke 03:10 PM
When are government expected to give their response to this report and in what forum?
The Commission is involved in numerous channels of engagement with various central government departments, regional and local forms of government, and third sector organisations. While we do not anticipate a formal response from Government, any major updates will be shared through the Commission’s website and social media accounts.
|Rashid Iqbal 03:23 PM
Most of the funding recommendation appear to be about pumping more money into the systems that the panel feel are failing young people- schools, police, prisons, etc….Are you not risking reinforcing power and not shifting power and resource to communities and young people?
The Commission would argue that a public health approach to violence reduction requires a wide-ranging interrogation of the systems that currently serve children and young people, in order to ensure that they are adequately funded, supporting the needs of their local communities, supporting community collaboration, and responding to the voices and concerns of young people.
To take schools as an example: we would argue that the failings experienced by the young people on the panel are caused by a range of factors, one of which is inadequate funding for schools. If schools were better funded and better incentivised to provide high quality wellbeing support; learning support; speech and language support; additional needs provision; trauma-informed and attachment-aware practice; and safeguarding, we would see significant improvements in schools’ ability to support young people who are potentially at risk of violence or exploitation, and to reduce exclusions. Clearly, funding is not the only answer – there are a range of other factors that we argue need to be addressed (e.g. admissions, inspections, training, etc. – see pg. 63 of the report) – but increased funding is part of the answer. We would not deny that systems such as our education system can, in some cases, be harmful to young people, but we believe that this is not inevitable, and thus we argue for a range of changes in the education system which we believe would enhance its capability to safeguard and support young people.
With regard to power and resource, across all of our recommendations we are recommending that a greater amount of resource is dedicated to the aspects of young people’s lives which we feel – based on the evidence presented to us – are most consequential for them: education, employment, housing, youth services, etc. We have not included specific recommendations around the redistribution of decision-making power, but we would support any kind of power-shift towards communities and young people if there is sufficient evidence that this would enhance the agency, safety, and life chances of young people.
|BUCKK 03:24 PM
Two young people have died in North West London in the last 48 hours. Their friends, siblings and peers are living with levels of bereavement and violence that are hard to believe. How can we get mental health services to step up to help both with prevention and with responding to the trauma in these communities?
The Report places a strong emphasis on the vital importance of improved mental health support for young people across a range of domains: in schools, within youth services, and in the community (see pg. 63 & pg. 66). The Commission believes that we need enhanced mental health support for young people both as a preventative measure to reduce the chances of young people’s involvement in harm or violence either as victims or perpetrators, and as a response to the harm they do experience.
Specifically, we argue in the report that youth workers need more training in this area, and that schools need to be provided with far greater resources and capacity to support trauma-informed practice.
|Adam Muirhead – IYW 03:24 PM
Youth Work approaches of youth-centred, relationship-based non-formal education seem to be lauded throughout the report. What has been stopping us as a society from recognising this form of powerful social education with parity to formal education?
It’s quite difficult for us to answer this, because – as you mention – our report makes very clear how highly we value youth work! We argue in the Report for universal, statutory youth services, because we recognise the value of youth services for all: as Rachel powerfully conveyed during the event, youth work can make a huge difference to any young person’s life. Due to funding cuts, youth services have become increasingly targeted, and seen to be “for” only those young people experiencing specific, urgent problems. This has contributed to youth work being seen too often as a “niche” targeted service suitable for and beneficial to only a small minority of young people, in contrast to the universal importance of formal education. We would argue strongly against this view, as is clear in the report. Universal youth services would make a significant difference to young people of all backgrounds across the country, and the value of youth work needs to be better-recognised if we are to improve the lives of our young people.
|Bhavna Tejpal 03:25 PM
Hello, firstly thank you to everyone involved in this event and the speakers today. I work for a charity that works with young people released from custody. I have seen that a lot of the researchers/policy makers within VRUs/MoJ/Mopac do not necessarily have frontline staff experience or lived experiences? Is there anything being done to employ/attract these people?
It is the understanding of the Commission that the VRUs and other agencies are working hard to ensure that they recruit people with lived and/or frontline experience as far as possible. As the Commission, we wish to see as much of this as possible. Callum Hutchison’s immense value as an employee of the Scottish VRU – evident both in the recent Panoroma episode he featured on and during our event – is a testament to the importance of employing and empowering those with experience of the problems that the VRUs are seeking to address. As Callum mentioned, it was the Scottish VRU’s generous and open approach that enabled him to stop seeing the police as a hostile force in his life, and this is something we would like to see replicated across the English VRUs: if they are to effectively engage with young people who have experienced violence – especially if they aim to recruit them – they need to adopt a similarly warm and welcoming ethos to that which has worked so well in the Scottish VRU.
|Lauren 03:26 PM
A government runs in terms of 4 years, how will you convince the now government to invest in a ten year plan, given that the benefits of this may not be theirs in 10 years time?
This is a significant challenge for any major policy area, and one that has been explicitly acknowledged and addressed in the executive summary of the final report – see pg. 10 of the report.
|Francis 03:26 PM
Today’s event is really moving, and really important. How can we get each local authority to take this initiative and energy forward and for a similar forum/event for their area?
It is our understanding that Local Authorities across the country have adopted various strategies to ensure that young people are given the platform to share their perspectives and influence decision-making. In a few London Boroughs, for instance, they have run youth-led commissions of various kinds (The Fair Futures Commission in Islington, The Young Futures Commission in Hackney, The Life Chances Commission in Waltham Forest). We would hope that all agencies and decision-making bodies involved in service provision for young people value and respond to the input of young people in their communities. We think it’s particularly important that any young person that does share their experiences and does contribute to decision-making of any kind is adequately supported and rewarded. For instance, we paid all of the participants in the Final Word event at London Living Wage, including paying for all of their preparation and debrief time.
|cblower752242 03:26 PM
What would the commissioners like to see in the education/training of teachers so that they become part of the solution to levels of exclusion and can actually engage positively with children and young people?
Our recommendations for education are outlined on pg. 63 of the report, and include enhanced training for teachers on trauma, attachment, and safeguarding. We also recommend that schools are provided with the enhanced funding that is necessary to support their specialist safeguarding professionals, and to make the aspiration of zero exclusions a realistic prospect.
|JamesBeazleyNPS 03:28 PM
As you have rightly mentioned there needs to be a change in how we work with young poeple in the CJS, i.e. more use of diversionary and preventative sentences. Do you also feel that there needs to be a more robust sentencing of those people who involve young people in crime (older people who groom and coerce children into committing county lines offences for example?)
The Commission did not focus on sentencing in its work as there is a lack of robust evidence to connect sentence length with effective deterrence. Certainly, more needs to be done to ensure that grooming, exploitation and coercion of all kinds are tackled, but we are not aware of substantial grounds for the idea that changes to sentencing guidelines would play a significant part in this. All of our recommendations are in some way connected to the need to reduce young people’s vulnerability to any kind of exploitation, and enhance the ability of professionals to protect them from it.