Mat Shaer was a principal contributor to the final report of the London Serious Youth Violence Board. He is a serving West Mids Police Superintendent responsible for Birmingham West and co-chairs the Strategic Board responding to guns, gangs and organised criminality. He previously served in Thames Valley and Met in a variety of roles including homicide investigation and Trident Gangs Command.
We asked Mat to share his thoughts on the Public Health approach with the Youth Violence Commission.
It was one of the ‘big snow’ days in December 2017 when I ventured back to London to give evidence at the Public Health focused session of the cross-party Youth Violence Commission. London is very familiar territory to me, born and raised there, schooled there, went to University there and spent 14 years of my policing career with the Met Police until transferring to West Midlands a little over 12 months ago. What is also sadly familiar is the understandable furore surrounding the shockingly high homicide rate in the Capital. I was seconded to the London Serious Youth Violence Board (LSYVB) between 2009 and 2011, established in the wake of what was described at the time as unprecedented teenage homicide rates.
In such circumstances, some might imagine the sense of deja vu to be especially disheartening. However, I do not allow myself to have an absence of hope. I can’t, because those of us who devote ourselves to public service and duty need to have the humility to appreciate that while consequences of violence may consume our working day, it can rob families and friends of loved ones, traumatise individuals and consume the hope of a community. That is something which is far more insidious, dangerous and, allowed to happen, ultimately means a failure of that public service and duty.
Since that December session I have been working closely with partners and colleagues to continue to take forward a Public Health approach to violence for the City of Birmingham. As Britain’s second city, the challenges for Birmingham are not insignificant. For example, Birmingham is ranked the sixth most deprived Local Authority in the UK. Approximately 40% of the population live in highly deprived areas. Yet, my experience of the last year leads me to believe that these challenges do not define the people, their hope for their families and communities, their City. I see it in their inspiring commitment and dedication to tackling violence and other concerns.
A criticism of the Public Health model is that too often the term is banded around without actually explaining what it means. I make no claim to be the one to define it, there are others further progressed down the path, for example, the Violence Reduction Unit in Scotland. However, I can say that in Birmingham we have succeeded in bringing people and organisations around the table by having Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) as the centre of our focus, the golden strand as I refer to it. While there can be common areas of concern amongst the statutory and non-statutory, preventing ACEs is everyone’s responsibility. It also completely resonates with the community.
The starting point has to be frontline practitioner awareness of ACEs. I have been undertaking this across the education and health sectors with colleagues spreading the knowledge across other areas. A wonderful tool I heartedly recommend in helping to achieve this important step is a film documentary, Resilience – The Biology of Stress and the Science of Hope. My ambition, and ambition is as important as hope, is for every Birmingham officer and staff member to see it and for us to start the process of taking that awareness element out into the community. Every interaction we have with another leaves a footprint and being alive to the potential of that footprint is essential.
In parallel, the work to build resilience to ACEs and to recover from them has been an especially rewarding one. These are newer areas of ACE ‘science’ but where I believe positive change can result from. Meeting inspirational people like Jacky Mulveen, Project Manager of the Birmingham Freedom Project, who is at the forefront of testing ACE recovery in a domestic abuse context. Introducing bespoke mentoring into a key locality, encouraging the growth of Mentors in Violence Prevention in schools, seeking medical practitioners to establish a Medics Against Violence programme for the City, looking forward to the arrival of Redthread into our hospitals to intervene at those crucial teachable moments with people in the middle of medical and emotional trauma as well as working with the faith community to develop ground-breaking interventions.
This is but a snapshot of the collective work that is on-going. The ambition is big because the task is generational not short-termist. It is underpinned by hope and by having people on-board who think differently and challenge not only the status quo but also the staple way of thinking that, in part, has brought us to where we are. I hope we all have the humility to deliver what is needed and wanted by the community and the City we serve.
This blog was written by Mat Shaer. Follow Mat on Twitter.
.May 1, 2018 11:18 am Leave your thoughts