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We must solve the surge in serious youth violence

33% of young people are worried about their future*
22% said they felt depressed*
51% said they felt worried for the future*
42% said they felt worn down*
Only 46% agreed that people like them can achieve what they want in life*
43% still lived with their parents*
*the annual (2016) survey of 4,000 young people aged 18-30 by the Young Women’s Trust

Creating a youth movement

On the 22nd September LifeLine delivered a series of workshops on knife crime to students in a Dagenham school.

Although the school had registered 15 year-11 students for one of the workshops, it had to be cancelled, as only 12 were in attendance. One student was recovering in hospital having been stabbed the previous week and two others had been arrested by police investigating the killing of 15-year-old Jordan Douherty, the youngest person to be killed by knife crime in London this year.

This is a brief and shocking reflection of the scale of Serious Youth Violence currently affecting our families and communities, plunging lives into trauma and crisis, and of the challenges we face as a local organisation trying to guide young people to make better lives for themselves. There have been four murders in Barking and Dagenham this year, with two stabbings in recent weeks. In 2017, there were 247 victims of Serious Youth Violence in Barking and Dagenham. This figure has increased by more than 50% over the past four years, and the violence has continued throughout 2018.

No one could argue: there is a growing problem that needs to be addressed.

Relationship is key

Our society appears to be failing to guide young people to become mature, responsible and engaged young adults, living with a stake in society and their community. Why are more young people apparently turning to violence and aggression, and what is driving them to this?

There have been many well-publicised concerns raised about the challenges facing young people growing up in Britain today. Mental health, loneliness, grooming and exploitation, violence, knife and gun crime are all significant issues, sparking calls for policy responses, increased funding and more urgent and imaginative interventions on the part of service providers, the voluntary and community sector.

Many young people do of course thrive, embracing the opportunities afforded by a good education and enjoying active, healthy social lives. But too many seem to be struggling with the expectations and responsibilities of adulthood, leading to anxieties, resentment and a sense of alienation.
From our years of providing mentoring for the most disengaged young people in mainstream schools, we have evidence of the difference it makes when a young person has someone who cares about and supports them – who helps them develop a vision for their life, a sense of identity and a purpose.
Some young people, such as Charlene*, are natural leaders. In 2016, Charlene was considered to be among the most challenging students in her school. During year 11, her teachers identified her as being at risk of dropping out. She had behaviour difficulties, and a history of exclusion and truancy.

She was referred to VIP mentoring and her mentor quickly noticed that 'she had a strong influence and personality that her friends feed off'.
He reflects: 'The aim was to re-focus Charlene and get her to look at a vision for her future, create a different identity and realise her purpose ... we praised her for little steps, things like having a good report for the week and then eventually coming off report altogether. Charlene was getting in trouble less in school and she wasn’t involved in incidents or drama outside of school as she was previously. She was making a conscious decision not to be involved in fights and confrontations. She would still be present but not actively involved.

'At the time, LifeLine was putting together a residential for the young people we mentor; Charlene was invited and she immediately stood out as a future leader as she had such a strong presence and character that everybody warmed to - both adults and young people.

'We ran a number of youth programmes, residentials and activities, Charlene was involved in all of them. We took a group of young people on a camping trip to Wales, she absolutely loved it, she was really engaged and displayed lots of leadership qualities, engaging and encouraging her peers through activities...'

Charlene remembers:
"It's made me feel comfortable and it made me a stronger person. They would tell me things and I would go back and reflect, which would have a big impact on my life"

Charlene developed a strong relationship with a trusted mentor who was able to challenge, encourage and direct her natural leadership skills.
Charlene is no longer the most challenging student. In fact she has become a professional youth leader, working with a partner organisation.

Mentoring has to be long term.

Short 'fix-it' programmes don't work. Young people who don't have a positive adult in their lives need support, not just to prevent the slide into depression, mental ill-health or violence; but to help them discover who they are, realise that they have hopes and dreams and help them to get involved in some positive activities.

Over the last 18 months, we have been working with young people, VCS partners and the statutory sector to develop the model shown above. There are four key elements which provide a programme that doesn't just stop the surge in serious youth violence but will create a self-sustaining youth movement.
  1. Referral - by schools and other agencies
  2. Engagement – Using our award-winning mentoring framework to build relationship with young people and positively influence their choices
  3. Integration – Encouraging the young people to get involved with positive activities outside of school that provide an alternative to being on the streets
  4. Leadership – Training young people to consult, advise and lead sessions. They will move from being participants to being leaders.  

Leadership - the critical element...

The Leadership element ensures we do not just deliver a youth programme but facilitate a youth movement.
It's up to those of us who are in positions of influence to build stronger, better relationships and social capital for young people in their communities. Creating new opportunities for a new generation of leaders and influencers to emerge.
Copyright © 2018 Lifeline Projects, All rights reserved.

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