Anne Longfield, former Children's Commissioner for England, is today (Thursday) launching a major year-long independent commission to develop a new national system to stop the conveyor belt of vulnerable teenagers
becoming involved in knife crime, serious violence, criminal gangs and the justice system.
The 'Commission on Young Lives' will devise a new and achievable national system of support, focused on preventing crisis and improving opportunities of vulnerable children at risk of getting into trouble with the law. It will look at how better to strengthen families, support children to stay in school, improve mental health support for children, protect children at risk and prevent children in care from becoming involved in violence, criminalisation and the wider criminal justice system.
The Commission comes amid concerns that the Covid pandemic provided new opportunities for the criminal exploitation of children who are vulnerable as a result of greater exposure to domestic violence, parental mental health problems and addiction issues during lockdown. Even before Covid hit in March 2020, almost 15,000 children had been referred to social services where gangs were a factor in their assessment in the previous year, a rise of 4,000 in twelve months.
Those working with vulnerable children are seeing the level of severity of problems become even higher - more domestic abuse, greater food poverty, a resurgence in knife crime and in teenagers turning up at A&E with stab wounds, more children struggling with mental health problems, with some unwilling to get back in to school. They warn that safeguarding incidents have become more extreme. Youth workers who before the pandemic were dealing with weekly new cases involving teenagers and serious violence, or in danger of exploitation, now talk about daily increases in demand.
Exclusive polling carried out by Public First for the 'Commission on Young Lives' of parents in England with children aged 5 to 18, also reveals the concerns many parents have about the impact of knife crime, gangs and drugs on their children.
The 'Commission on Young Lives' is hosted and supported by the Oasis Charitable Trust, who will soon begin running the first Ministry of Justice secure school - a ground-breaking therapeutic model for children in custody.
Oasis has decades of experience of working in and with communities, empowering families and vulnerable children, and already deliver housing, education, healthcare, training, youth work, family support and many other initiatives. Currently they work with young people in 42 local neighbourhoods in England and are responsible for 30,000 students in 53 schools, often in challenging communities.
The Commission also includes a national panel of experts and leaders with personal and professional insight and understanding of the issues and impact on the lives of young people and communities, and with extensive experience of delivering change in communities, services and in government. Panel members include Baroness Louise Casey, Rev. Steve Chalke (Founder of Oasis), Junior Smart (Founder of the 'SOS Project' at St. Giles Trust), Martin Hewitt (Chair of the national Police Chiefs Council) and Kendra Houseman (Founder 'Out of the Shadows').
Anne Longfield, Chair of the 'Commission on Young Lives', launching the Commission, said:
"Covid has dealt a strong hand to the gangs and criminals who exploit vulnerable children. It has compounded the cocktail of risks like domestic violence, parental mental health problems, addiction issues, and not attending school that can see children falling off the radar and into danger.
"At the same time, the methods used to entice and trap teenagers into criminality are brutal and increasingly sophisticated.
"We are making it too easy for them to use our children.
"Society is struggling to know what to do, and the response is often disjointed, underfunded and uncoordinated. Yet this is an issue that many parents are deeply worried about, and they fear is getting worse.
"The Commission on Young Lives will develop systems of protection and support to help keep vulnerable children safe and inspire them to succeed. We will show how we can achieve better outcomes for marginalised children by providing affordable solutions to government and others.
"We need to start fighting back with coordinated national action that stops the conveyor belt of vulnerable children who are being groomed, abused and denied their chance to do well in life."
Rev. Steve Chalke, founder of Oasis Charitable Trust and a member of the Commission's expert panel, said:
"Too many children continue to fall through the gaps between our various statutory systems and services. It seems that the more vulnerable a child is, the thinner the layers of support that are there for them in the first place. The pandemic many have magnified these issues, but it is society's neglect that created them.
"Oasis has worked on the frontline with these children and families for more than 35 years. In that time, we've read the reports and adjusted to the language of successive governments - from 'every child matters' to 'child first', from 'join-up thinking' to 'integrated frameworks' - but witnessed little real progress.
"Oasis is hosting the 'Commission on Young Lives' and rather than being designed to reweigh the proverbial pig again, its task is different. Anne's mission is to discover what is working down on the ground in local communities and to explore what can be scaled, replicated and built on to achieve the change that has for so long been denied to many children."
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