Mayor Boris Johnson this week announced his manifesto on tackling youth crime, Emma-Jane Cross, Chief Executive of Beatbullying (www.beatbullying.org) argues that the Mayor needs to take more intelligent action and focus on the causes of the problems, not just attempt to deal with them once they occur.
While Boris’ plans clearly prioritise funding tackling youth violence, his commitments must go further to deal with the problem. He clearly understands the need to provide guidance and programmes to steer young people away from violence, gangs and knife crime, but there is simply not enough focus on this. Knife crime is cited as the tip of what the Mayor calls a “pyramid of violence”, but we need to see more real preventative work targeted at tackling the behaviours at the bottom of the pyramid.
We know that the anti-social behaviours at the bottom of the pyramid, or what we call the Gateway, such as bullying, petty theft, extortion, truancy and casual racism and homophobia, can escalate to more serious violent crime without suitable and sustained intervention. Instead of fire-fighting with the consequences once a young person has reached the tip of the pyramid, Beatbullying believes it is far more logical, and effective, to tackle the causes and problems that have led a young person to that position. In effect, developing character and responsibility to stop them from picking up the knife in the first place.
Utilising early intervention processes, Beatbullying’s Gateway programmes are specifically designed and proven to divert the behaviour of young people who are heading towards the tipping point or “Gateway” to criminal and extreme antisocial behavior. The mayor must introduce behavior modification strategies, conflict resolution, anger management and impulse control. This is best achieved by partnering with the third sector: with an emphasis on peer-lead practice and interventions, we can arrest a youth culture which is bound up with fear and violence.
A good example of how this can work effectively has been the success of BBSports in London. BBSports is one of Beatbullying’s bullying prevention programmes, designed to tackle anti-social and violent behaviours and reduce bullying among young people. It is a dedicated “Gateway” programme which utilises good prevention work, conflict resolution and anger management and enables us to tackle problems before a young person’s behaviour escalates into more serious incidents involving weapons and gang related behaviour.
The explicit objective of the Gateway programmes is to divert this behaviour through targeted, in-depth and sustained intervention work, helping to ensure that young people do not go off track. Using anger management, conflict resolution and Peer mentoring led practice and interventions, we are able to achieve this. Through BBSports, we are able to change the attitudes and lives of these young people, and offer them an equal opportunity to succeed.
The objective of the BBSports programme is to offer young people a progressive and participative opportunity to understand the underlying causes, effects and consequences of bullying and child on child violence through the use of sports based activities, discussions and debate. It is not about celebrating perceived talents and skills in sport, but utilising the ‘team’ focus and skill sharing elements to address the relationships between individuals that can break down. Sports based scenarios that explore bullying reinforce young people’s understanding of the problem.
The programme is all inclusive and encourages participation from all young people, regardless of background, gender, sexuality, race or disability. However, the programme specifically focuses on reaching the most vulnerable and at risk young people, who most need the support. It is designed for those who are exhibiting, or who are likely to exhibit, anti-social or criminal behaviour, as well as those who are victims of that behaviour. Indeed, a most crucial aspect of the process involved in our work is identifying those young people most at risk of progressing to anti-social behaviour, and diverting their behaviour before they reach that point.
In the last year since its launch in October of last year BBSports has been rolled out in 26 schools across 13 London boroughs working directly with over 500 young people across the capital. The programme has lead to a reduction in incidences of bullying and child on child violence by an average of 33% and an increase in the reporting of bullying and child on child violence by 67%.
Schemes such as this show a demonstrable success is achievable through Gateway projects; however more action needs to be taken at city level. Young people, parents, teachers – all Londoners want to keep young Londoners safe, that surely means prevention, early intervention and not an over emphasis on command and control.
If implemented in London, Gateway will lead to a reduction in youth crime, with fewer kids carrying knives, fewer fights and violent outbursts in schools and on the streets and fewer racist and homophobic attacks.
The importance of education outlined in project Euclid is vital, but the focus is still on the late intervention policing and protocols on attendance, without enough emphasis on the root causes behind truancy, or on best practice resources to prevent truancy in the first place. Beatbullying’s truancy report showed that bullying and youth violence or a fear of bullying and youth violence result in a third of all incidences of bullying. Policing in schools is not the solution. City Hall must first look closer at why so many pupils are missing education, and implement strategies to address these causes.
Boris’ vision of hope for the youth of London will only come to fruition with an integrated approach from parents, teachers and the third sector, all acknowledging the cold, hard facts of gateway behavior to work closely with the perpetrators to tackle bullying and youth violence head on helping to create a greater and safer capital.