A strategy for youth inclusion in society
By Stella Creasy, Labour MP for Walthamstow and Co-Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Youth Affairs
Amid strong national GSCE results, it was easy to miss an important landmark for London. This year, more than half of students in the East End gained five or more good GCSEs for the first time. But results like this rarely get reported. We’re much more likely to hear about hoodies, gangs and thugs.
Recognition of the worth of young people is being subsumed by worry that they are out of control.
The safety of young people on the streets of Walthamstow dominated many doorstep conversations during the election. It’s not hard to understand why. Other crimes in London continue to decline, but knife offences involving young people are rising. In our community, as in others, families mourn loved ones. Children reel from the loss of a friend. Behind each statistic, a story. Yet too often policy focuses on the issue, rather than the individual.
Helping young people realise their potential must not be designated the sole responsibility of any one service, or person. Tackling knife crime isn’t just a matter for the police and educational achievement isn’t just about what happens in schools. There are a myriad of people and public services who can change a young adult’s life. The challenge is to bring them together.
This requires more than one off projects or summer schemes. It takes trust and patience to help someone through the challenge of personal development during adolescence. But services like education, housing and the police are too often shaped by the priorities of the institutions that provide them. Consequently, they end up working alongside each other rather than collectively.
Youth offending teams, teachers, careers advisors and social services can be drawn into partnerships, but this happens when something goes wrong instead of being a systematic approach for all children.
The role of organisations that don’t seek public funding is also often neglected as statutory agencies focus on working through contracts and commissioning schemes. Yet faith groups, grassroots volunteers and established organisations such as the Scouts or Woodcraft Folk can all connect with parts of communities that are beyond the reach of more formal bodies.
The ethos of Surestart shows that it is possible to tailor activities directly for service users. This should be extended directly to a programme for young people. We know that the earlier relationships are fostered, the more effective they are. There are clear benefits in starting with children as they make the transition from primary to secondary school.
Above all, we need to involve young people themselves. Too often they are talked about, rather than recognised as being able to shape their own futures or those of their friends. Programmes finding ways to tap into peer relationships – whether to improve sexual health or tackle gang culture – reap substantial rewards for all concerned.
Moving policy from seeing the issue to supporting the individual is complex but important. The need to equip young people with the confidence to achieve as well as strengthen the social networks that breed resilience also makes it imperative.