Sadly we are experiencing an increase in violence in Birmingham, manifested in high levels of knife crime, gang exploitation and teenage homicide – after a period of time when youth violence and gang activity in the city had reduced.
As Britain’s second city, our challenges are not insignificant: for example, Birmingham is ranked the sixth most deprived local authority in the UK. This might lead us to be disheartened but we have to keep working together, building on the amazing effort of community members, volunteers, people of faith, the third sector, colleagues and statutory partners to prevent the terrible impact that violence has on victims, and their families and friends, and the hope of a community.
“Child protection legislation is less relevant where parents/carers are doing everything they can to safeguard their children.”
Working closely with partners has come to epitomise the approach to tackling violence and gang exploitation in Birmingham. These issues cannot be dealt with by individual agencies on their own, as the causes and drivers are varied. Young people’s perceptions of their safety, their experience of trauma, particularly neglect, violence or loss, and the level of disruption in their support networks, including school and training, are significant factors in the prevalence of violence. Others are societal including the use and supply of drugs. We know that organised crime groups, oversupplied with Class A drugs, are changing their ‘business’ models and presenting a different set of risks to children and adults vulnerable to becoming engaged. This often means using other young people or adults to recruit peers or friends not known to the system so they remain off the radar of police and social care.
A whole system approach also allows us to address the violence (including knife related violence) perpetrated by adults, and the fact that many young people who are victims and perpetrators are not known to agencies
As part of our wider public health model we have a multi-agency gang’s operational forum that is sharing information, dismantling and mitigating the effects of gangs and key individuals, utilising trauma informed commissioning as well as working with the faith community to develop ground-breaking interventions. Effective enforcement and the use of stop and search powers are also essential to provide immediate protection for communities whilst focusing on these longer term ambitions.
Our understanding and response to county lines through our criminal exploitation panel came before the term appeared nationally. In Birmingham we have succeeded in bringing people and organisations around the table by having a trauma informed approach at the core, as intervening to mitigate trauma is everyone’s responsibility. It also completely resonates with the community.
There is on-going work to build resilience to trauma amongst young people and help those affected to recover from its impact. This includes work to restore as well as prevent the breakdown of the key social support – family, school placements, training opportunities, access to health services and positive activities. This is reinforced by the introduction of bespoke mentoring, encouraging the growth of Mentors in Violence Prevention in schools, as well as the Unicef ‘Rights of the Child’ resilience programme and the arrival of Redthread into our hospitals to intervene at those teachable moments with people in the middle of medical and emotional trauma.
We have a trauma informed Youth Offending Service, continue to raise awareness of the risks of carrying knives and promote alternative approaches to the resolution of disputes. Our Early Help Hubs have embedded police and health staff and we have a city wide Think Family offer, including multi-systemic therapy, working with 2,000 families at any one time.
In practice we know that child protection legislation is less relevant where parents/carers are doing everything they can to safeguard their children. So we are developing a contextual safeguarding approach including a multi-agency hub to understand, and respond to, children’s experiences of significant harm beyond their families and up to the age of 25. We have successfully applied for Youth Intervention Fund and Supporting Families funding. This will add much needed capacity, especially for those identified as most vulnerable including those at risk of primary and secondary exclusion, but both are short term pots of funding. The continuation and delivery of much of this work is dependent on funding such as the Troubled Families Grant – which comes to an end in March 2020 and appropriate funding for the criminal justice system including youth justice.
There might be a sense of déjà vu in Birmingham given our past experiences with gang violence in the city. We addressed this issue once before and we can do it again.
Dawn Roberts, assistant director early help, family support & youth justice, Birmingham Children’s Trust and Mat Shaer, superintendent, West Midlands Police. Joint chairs of the guns, gangs and organised criminality strategic board