Our Safeguarding Manager, Daniel Jarrett, shines a spotlight on an area that practitioners are increasingly having to be aware of: knife crime.
Knife crime in the UK is currently at a 6-year high and there has been a 26% increase in the last 12 months alone. In London, there has been a 47% rise in knife crimes and according to BBC News, of the 37,000 incidents involving a blade or sharp object, more than 13,000 offences were committed in London. At the time of writing, 21 young people have been fatally stabbed in the city this year.
Social media has increased the risk of knife related crime and it’s important that young people are informed on the risks of social media, as well as who to turn to if they feel unsafe or harassed online.
I recently attended a conference regarding the increasing prevalence of knife crime in London and the UK in general. The conference focused on the need for further collaborative working between schools, the police, and local voluntary organisations and charities to try and safeguard young people at risk of knife crime.
A presentation was delivered by a school in London on their unique approach to reducing the risk of knife crime. Although unpopular at the beginning, the school have introduced safety arches (body scanners) and there are random bag checks undertaken to ensure that children are not bringing knives or other dangerous weapons into the school. Texts are also sent to parents informing them when no items were found.
The school have also forged strong links with the local police force and have a dedicated School Safety Officer (SSO). The SSO delivers presentations, has regular contact and is a recognisable presence with parents and children, and organises the on-site Volunteer Police Cadets which is a strong diversionary activity for young people. Through this joint working and collaboration, the school is now a safe place for young people to attend, and although there is still work to do to ensure the safety of young people outside of school, they have forged strong partnerships in the local community which in itself increases awareness and community cohesion.
SHS have worked with a number of young people who have been at risk of knife related crime. A strong multi-agency approach, clear information sharing, and knowledge of the local area and its resources are fundamental in safeguarding young people.
I began working with Ben* while he was in Year 8 at secondary school. The original referral was due to Ben having been possibly targeted outside of school by an older group of boys. The group had allegedly asked Ben to steal a mobile phone, and, when unsuccessful, they had threatened to stab him. The school had increasing concerns for his safety and the possibility of him being groomed for gangs.
Ben initially denied having been approached by any older boys and denied having stolen a phone; however, despite this, the school and I discussed a safety plan with Ben about coming home on time after school and ensuring that he accepted the school’s support in accompanying him to the school gates and taking the bus straight home after school where he would be met by his mother. I also worked with mum on installing effective boundaries in the home and referred her to a local parenting class for additional support.
This safety plan worked for several weeks and I also referred Ben to a local youth club so he could attend diversionary activities, such as football sessions and courses on building healthy relationships. After a couple of months, Ben began to stray from the safety plan and went missing for several hours after school. Through intensive direct work with Ben at both school and home, he finally admitted to being in contact with elder boys who had asked him to steal items or they would hurt him. Ben also admitted to having been threatened and assaulted while on the bus to school and feeling in danger in the area outside school. In agreement with Ben and his mother, the assault was immediately reported to the police, an investigation began, and I requested an urgent safety plan meeting at school with the SSO.
However safe Ben was within school grounds, it was becoming increasingly difficult to control his safety outside of school and a decision was made whereby some school funds were used, along with funding from the mother, to pay for Ben to be transported to and from school by taxi. This ensured that Ben was able to continue attending school but also ensured that he was safe and secure. In the meantime, mum decided that Ben had to move schools due to increasing risk to him in the local community. I supported mum in completing an application to a different school as well as referring Ben to the local YOT for additional diversionary support.
Unfortunately, Ben was then approached outside a local shop by a group of boys who assaulted him and threatened to burn down the family home. These threats were again immediately reported to the police and special measures were placed on the property to ensure the police responded quickly to any call out. I completed an urgent referral to children’s social care and supported mum in approaching the local housing department with all the police reports, in order to apply for emergency re-housing. Thankfully, housing responded with the urgency needed and the family were moved outside of the borough into an area far away from ongoing risks.
Once the family were settled, I supported them in applying for an SHS Welfare Fund to purchase new furniture, completing new school applications, and referring Ben to a specialist organisation who supported young people at risk of gang affiliation. They immediately assigned a mentor who could work with Ben moving forward and try to ensure that the same risks did not present themselves again in the new area. I also ensured that a handover meeting took place at the new school so the Designated Safeguarding Lead and relevant professionals were aware of the previous risks and how to support Ben effectively.
It is fundamental when working with young people at risk of knife crime and possible gang affiliation that professionals involved are aware of any ongoing risks and regular meetings taking place, to discuss emerging concerns and share vital information. It is also vital that the SSO is involved in ensuring the safety of a young person at school and in the local community, as they may be able to bring additional intelligence and local information that can further ensure the safety of a young person.
Early intervention is one of the most important factors in preventing future knife crime and this means starting prevention programmes and awareness raising sessions in primary schools, ensuring young people feel supported and respected by both professionals (school, police, social services) and local community members, as well as ensuring that parents are supported at an early stage in developing effective parenting techniques.
London Gang Exit
Provides support to exit a gang for anyone who is involved or affiliated with a gang and aged 16-24
MOPAC Knife Crime Strategyhttps://www.london.gov.uk/sites/default/files/mopac_knife_crime_strategy_june_2017.pdf
No Knives, Better Lives
A campaign that aims to raise awareness of the consequences of carrying a knife and provides information on local activities and opportunities for young people http://noknivesbetterlives.com
*Names have been changed