Sherry Peck: To Safeguard Young People we must Tackle Inequality and Social Injustice
We welcome the key messages from the Youth Violence Commission’s final report – in particular, the recognition of the importance of the early years, how important families and communities are, and how they should be empowered to have a voice going forward.
Safer London is privileged to have worked with thousands of Young Londoners. What we learn from them is often inspirational, but can also be challenging when it makes us face up to some of the realities around the context we are asking them to grow and thrive in. We are clear that Young Londoners are not the issue – the context in which they are trying desperately to create their lives in is.
The paucity of housing, long term employment that pays adequately and social injustice experienced by many, as this report clearly demonstrates, is likely to impact on an entire generation and future generations unless we all face up to our responsibility to work to change things. We know that a clear driver of violence is inequality and social injustice – class and income inequality is without doubt key, but racial inequality also needs to be recognised and responded to as a matter of urgency.
The work we do at Safer London alongside Young Londoners goes some way to advocate at an individual level for change, our work is relationship based which helps young people strive towards their aspirations despite this backdrop. We support young people by listening to them. By building strong trusting relationships we gain insight into their world, what they need and how we can work with them in the way that best suits them. For example, we have a specialist mental health worker who meets the young person in a place where they feel most comfortable. This approach to addressing the impacts of trauma on a young person’s life has yielded great results.
We are clear about the need to change the wider narrative around young people affected by violence – so that it is seen for what it is – a safeguarding issue. Historically, we saw the term ‘Child Prostitute’ used and quite rightly we have, as a whole society, realised this was victim blaming and clearly incorrect – the young people labelled as such were victims of exploitation, had been groomed and needed support. Now we need to change the narrative around the children who are finding themselves trapped in a cycle of violence.
The removal of services for young people which generations before would have taken for granted is advancing at a pace – the local youth club simply doesn’t exist for many any longer and outstanding youth workers who operated both assertively on the streets and within those local buildings are too few and far between. Sadly, there is a need for a specialist organisation such as Safer London who work exclusively with young Londoners affected by violence and exploitation.
Arguably even more sadly, however, many of those organisations who historically would provide that essential youth provision or children or family centre spaces are having to attempt to move into this specialist ‘youth violence’ world to secure funding to continue to exist. This is wrong on a number of fronts and we would advocate both an increase in locally embedded youth work and support to ensure specialist services are funded to undertake the work that is still desperately needed.
Sherry Peck is CEO of Safer London