Knife Attacks – Whose Crime Is It?

I find myself staring at the screen, unable to comprehend how utterly devastating it must be as a parent, to have a police officer knock on your door in the early hours of the morning, to be told that your darling child has been stabbed to death. My heart weeps for the senseless loss of life, young lives stolen away in this rising tide of violence. I know what it is like to break truly awful news to people and their families and my heart goes out to the police officers on the beat or the clinicians in the Emergency Department, who have to break the terrible news to the parents and the siblings, that so suddenly, a bright shining light in their lives, has been extinguished.

 

Knife attacks are a crime, there is no denying that, but the burden of guilt is not so easily apportioned. We are seeing an exponential rise of it in our streets, with a 93% increase in recent years across England, whilst in Scotland, they have seen a 64% decrease over a similar timeframe. We need to examine what has gone on in that time and ask some very uncomfortable questions. We also need to call people to account for decisions which have been made, despite knowing the evidence, and  we desperately need a ‘whole systems’ approach to tackling this epidemic.

 

The Primeminister has stated that “knife crime” is not linked to a decrease in policing numbers. The police chiefs disagree. The truth is, that it’s not only the police who have disappeared off our streets (and these are community police officers, who knew their communities well and were respected and trusted – it takes years to build up those kind of relationships) – we’ve had a perfect cocktail of cuts right across the board which is directly attributable to the mess we are now in. Ongoing austerity, which is a political choice, has also led to the closure of youth centres, more young people than ever excluded from school, (who then have a 200 times higher chance of being groomed into violent gangs) and massive cuts to public health and local government, meaning many preventative schemes have disappeared. When policy fails, it has to be called out and challenged. Everyone with a brain knows that prevention is better than cure. And for those who have lost loved ones, there is now no comfort – this could have been prevented, but has been allowed to escalate at such an alarming rate because we do not have a form of politics or leadership that listens to what is really going on in our communities, but continues to drive through ideological changes without thinking through the consequences. This is unacceptable.

 

When Heidi Allen MP came to Morecambe, she heard the testimony of my friend, Daniel, who grew up in some really tough circumstances, forced into a gang culture in order to help put food on the table and prevent harm coming to his family. Tears streamed down her face as she heard his powerful account of what it meant for him as a young person, to have his youth centre closed, his local high school closed and being told he was not a priority when he was street homeless. She told us that she had not realised the layers to the poverty that many are experiencing across England. And this is how the (perhaps) unintended consequences of remote policy decisions affect ordinary people in droves across the UK. When school budgets are cut and mental health teams are cut and social care provision is cut and youth centres are cut, children and young people from home environments which are already struggling to make ends meet, already processing significant trauma and adversity, fall prey to gangs and criminal networks who use them and abuse them for their gains across county lines.

 

And yet in Scotland, we are seeing an altogether different picture emerging, because they saw this problem 10 years ago and decided to make a difference by dealing with complex living systems, rather than tinkering clumsily with mechanistic thinking. So it is high time that England ate some humble pie and learnt from our Celtic friends.

 

Scotland, unlike the English, are not delaying on taking a serious approach to Adverse Childhood Experiences, hoping to become the first fully trauma informed nation in the world. They have taken a public health, holistic approach to the knife crime problems in Glasgow and then spread the learning across the nation, rather than making devastating cuts to their PH budgets. What they have done isn’t rocket science – it’s plain, public health common sense. They have chosen not to criminalise, label and stigmatise young people (something the hostile environment rhetoric seems to do). They have refused to see it as a race problem – because it isn’t (but some in our press in particular, and some members of the government have stirred up this nonsense anyway) and they have invested in early and effective youth intervention programmes, amongst other things.

 

One of things my work has taught me to do, is suspend my judgements of those who we would automatically and ordinarily point the finger at, the supposed perpetrators of a crime, and really listen to the truth. The truth here is complex and I’m not saying that people who commit violent acts do not need to face the consequences of their actions. They do. But what I am saying is that we need restorative justice in our communities that breaks this horrendous cycle. We also need to recognise that there has been terrible violence done to our most vulnerable children and young people across England by a series of political decisions. The government has failed those it should have protected. In my line of work, those kind of errors would lead to massive learning events and the dismissal of those who had failed in their leadership. Perhaps people have such little faith in the political system we have because there is seemingly such little accountability. Now is not the time for silly political defence of failure. Now is the time for humility, repentance and a genuine turning of the hearts of the fathers and mothers in the nation to the rising generation, far too many of whom are no longer with us.

 

 

 

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It’s Time to Say #EnoughNow to Adverse Childhood Experiences

Last week, I had the utter privilege of co-hosting a conference with my good friend, Siobhan Collingwood, the head teacher at Morecambe Bay Community Primary School on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), at the Globe Arena. We both know the reality of ACEs every day in our communities (see my previous blog) and so wanted to bring people together from across our amazing community in North Lancashire, working in the public  and community sector, or simply with a passion to see change, to explore how we can begin to say “Enough Now” to ACEs. (Huge thanks to the incredible Jon Dorsett for his graphic art).

 

As part of the day, my friends, Ian Cooper (Chief Inspector of Police) and Nick Howard (who leads the team at the city council on housing and planning) hosted a 135 minute conversation for all 180 participants around this theme: ‘Together, what can we do to transform the experience of childhood for good?’ There was such a buzz as people from different backgrounds and perspectives, collaborated and challenged each other to break out of our boxes and find new ways to bring transformation. The ideas generated were incredible and each person left the room with a clear commitment and next step for what they needed to do in their place of work or neighbourhood. Already we are hearing amazing stories and initiatives which are beginning as a result and we are building networks together.

 

We had fantastic input from Prof Warren Larkin, Sue Irwin (and her excellent work with EmBRACE), and host of other brilliant people working across many sectors, lending their expertise to further the conversations in interactive seminars – the feedback on each one has been incredible!

 

So – there is a huge challenge to the English Government (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are already streaks ahead) as to why they are not taking the vast evidence base seriously and playing their part in breaking this devastating cycle. If we are to tackle this enormous issue of ACEs, it means vast changes to the ways we are delivering and measuring education in our schools and a serious reassessment of cuts of funding to children’s centres, midwives and health visitors, removing target-driven outcomes and finding ways to put relationship back into the heart of our modus operandi. It will take a people movement to bring the shifts that are needed, but given just how devastating ACEs are to physical, mental, emotional and social wellbeing and the huge cost burden they are to our public services and society, we have to give ourselves to drawing a line in the sand, saying enough now and reimagining the future together.

 

Here in Morecambe Bay, and across Lancashire, we are taking this issue really seriously and believe it to be one of THE most important population health issues of our time. A few of us have co-authored a ‘Little Book of ACEs’ together, in conjunction with Lancaster University – available very soon (!) which you might find helpful. My section expands a little on a previous blog post I have written here.

 

This whole area of ACEs is so sensitive, it takes compassion, kindness, bravery and wisdom. We cannot face it alone in silos, but together we can! Together, we can bring healing to our communities and freedom for the generations to come. We have to be willing to be those, who life Gandalf, in ‘The Lord of the Rings’ take our staff and say to this Balrog, which has devoured too many lives – “you shall not pass!” We have to give ourselves to drawing a line in the sand, saying “enough now” and step into a reimagined future of childhood, together.

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How Do We Build a City That Works For Everyone?

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Goldfish and What They Teach Us!

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Population Health and the NHS 10 Year Plan

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Heathrow and Health

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