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Knife crime and the fatal gap in provision

Young men aged 18 to 25 are most at risk, but lack support

31 May, 2018 — By William McLennan

Jason Allen

YOUNG adults who are among the most likely to be victims or perpetrators of knife violence are being failed by youth services, experts have warned.

Camden Council’s probe into the rising level of stabbings is expected to report in July that there is a significant “gap in provision” for young people aged 18 to 25. The vast majority of knife victims in Camden are aged 18 or over.

The attention is being focused too heavily on those potentially “at risk” teenagers, while those already engaged in a dangerous life-style are being overlooked.

This high-risk group, while thought to number fewer than 200 in Camden, are more likely to carry knives and reportedly view violence as a normal, inescapable part of their lives.

But, one of the few projects in the country to directly support this group has been quietly working away from their base at St Mary’s Church in Primrose Hill, providing something of a blueprint for a different approach.

Jason Allen, who leads the project, said: “We are dealing with people who are now the risk, that have been forgotten about. They have been shunned. It’s completely forgotten about, this group of people.”

He added: “No matter what they do, however big or bad, we will stay with them to support them.”

That includes making regular visits to young offenders institutions and prisons, where they “continue to plan for their release and help with their development within prison”.

Mr Allen and his small team are on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, often fielding phone calls in the middle of the night or running sessions on Christmas Day.

The late-night calls can come from a young person threatening to seek revenge for an earlier attack, he said, but equally could be someone “talking about themselves feeling lost”.
“At its most basic level, sometimes young people just need to be told not to go out and do something at 2am”, he said.

“We do live interventions where the situation may have just happened and young people are trying to manage high levels of trauma. People are losing family members, friends. There’s a huge amount of pain going around and the young people can’t manage their feelings on it.”

Their approach mirrors that of NHS psychologists, partly funded by Camden Council, who are carrying out groundbreaking work with members of the Easy Cash gang in the Clerkenwell area.

The work of the psychologists, known as Project 10/10, looks to provide stability in young people’s otherwise chaotic lives.

It is is based on the academic principle of “attachment theory” – which states that humans learn how to cope with their emotions by forming stable relationships at a young age.

In contrast, Mr Allen’s project is based on life experience and on-the-ground youth work.

He said: “What I felt that was needed from a young age, from personal experience, is there’s not really people there to go through your whole journey with you. We are able to give them a safe space and a safe person to speak to. Someone that is consistent throughout their journey.”

Their dedication to working with youngsters who have committed serious offences does not receive a warm reception from all quarters.

Mr Allen said: “I understand that you get individuals that would be more concerned if it happened to someone that wasn’t involved in that way of life, but we can’t think like that. A life is a life.”

He said that some of the young people they work with are “completely desensitised to high levels of violence” from repeated exposure to it and believe that “if you don’t carry a knife you are more likely to lose your life”.

He added: “That’s the harsh reality these young people are living.”

Much emphasis has been placed on “early intervention” , but it is feared that young people who are excluded from school and already involved in criminality are being neglected.

Mr Allen said that the young people they work with often believe that their dangerous lifestyle – with risks of death or imprisonment – is the only option, adding: “It’s about not understanding and not having the self belief that they can have another way of life.”

“That’s what we work on. We work on self development and violence reduction and that can take years.”

A provisional report of Camden’s youth safety taskforce, set up following the death of Mohamed Aadam, known as Mitch, has identified a “gap in provision” for 18-25s.

The taskforce has spent the past five months collecting evidence from those affected by youth violence, including victims, and those working to combat it, including police and health workers.

The provisional report said: “[The 18-25] age group represents a significant cohort of Camden’s youth violence profile, but the services and provision available to these young people is significantly less.”

The report said they require support with employment and moving away from areas with historical tensions. It said: “The focus groups send a strong message that more investment is required here.”

Cllr Abdul Hai, who co-chairs the taskforce with Keir Starmer MP, said that one of the “emerging themes” of the report was a “gap between 18 to 25, because a lot of services tend to work till 18 and then drop off”.

He said: “Part of our work is looking at what we can do to provide more support, wether it’s employment or mental heath.”

He said that government funding cuts had also hit early intervention work, adding: “My hope is that those two elements can be addressed with the taskforce’s recommendations.”


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