Final report from Camden’s Youth Safety Taskforce proposes collective community response to break the cycle of exploitation of young people in the borough
A final report from Camden’s Youth Safety Taskforce containing key findings and recommendations to help keep young people in Camden safe has been published.
Chairs of the Taskforce, Keir Starmer QC, MP, and Councillor Abdul Hai, Camden Council’s Cabinet Member for Young People and Cohesion, presented the report at St Luke’s Church in Kentish Town last night (Thursday, 20 September) to a variety of individuals and organisations who have played a vital role in helping the Taskforce since it was set up in November 2017.
The event included an announcement from Camden Council that we would be allocating £500,000 of funding to help the council, partners and the community to act upon some of the report’s key recommendations. The funding will be spent over a two-year period.
The Taskforce was created in response to an increase in youth violence incidents in the borough over the previous year – with a target of studying the underlying causes of youth violence in the borough and identifying what more could be done to keep Camden’s young people safe.
For some years Camden was positioned below comparable boroughs in terms of recorded numbers for youth violence and knife crime. Between 2010 and December 2016, fatalities resulting from violent crime remained low, with two young people under 25 years old becoming victims of murder in Camden. However, the figures for knife crime with injury doubled in 2017 compared with the previous year. From December 2016 until today, there have been four murders of young people under 25. In the last year, there were 100 victims of knife crime with injury in the borough. It is also recognised that, for a number of reasons, incidents of violence are not always reported to the police and therefore the actual figure is almost certainly higher.
Seeking answers to why there has been this increase in youth violence, as well as other key issues facing some of the borough’s youth, the Taskforce carried out extensive engagement with young people, parents and residents, health professionals, the police and public sector partners, and the voluntary sector, as well as studying detailed research to learn from what has worked elsewhere.
Hundreds of individuals were spoken to directly, or engaged with online, in order to develop the final report. This includes closely working with members of Camden’s Somali community, which had particularly felt the devastating impact of this increase in youth violence locally.
Some of the findings from that engagement include:
A well-established drugs market. The information seen on gang cultures in Camden shows a change in characteristics. Historically, the focus has been on postcode gang territories that need to be defended from outsiders. The information seen by the Taskforce is that more recently there have been signs of a drugs market driven by a desire for profit.
The Home Office’s recent Serious Violence Strategy says that the presence of drugs markets can drive sudden shifts in serious violence in local areas.
While a significant proportion of youth violence in Camden is linked with the drugs market, not all young victims of youth violence are linked to gangs. However, while evidence suggests that the majority of knife crime is not gang-related, gang-related knife crime tends to be more violent and young black and ethnic minority males are disproportionately affected.
A tale of exploitation - where young children, mainly male, are being exploited by older criminals, specifically in the drugs trade. The research makes it clear that it is often the most vulnerable young people who are at the greatest risk. There is a strong view in Camden that the exploitation of young people needs to feature more prominently in any discussion about enforcement. And that enforcement action should be taken against those ‘at the top’ of the drugs businesses, as they are making money from the exploitation of children.
A large proportion of young offenders are also victims and the taskforce heard examples of how young people change from being victim to offender on a daily or even hourly basis in some cases. Additionally, trauma was cited as a key cause in the focus groups of professionals and experience of early childhood trauma is regularly reported by workers as being evident in the young people they work with, with some suggesting it has led to desensitisation to violence for those involved. They said that the trauma experienced in childhood has led to an emotional detachment from the violent actions taking place in the borough.
Education, employment and opportunity. The Taskforce heard that lack of opportunities and the desire to make money were key underlying drivers of serious youth violence. Being in education, training or employment are protective factors which could decrease the vulnerability of young people or their involvement in youth violence.
The Taskforce did not find evidence in Camden of direct causality between school exclusions and youth violence. However, The Taskforce found that regular attendance in education plays a vital role in keeping young people away from gang involvement. The recent national Ministry of Justice report ‘Examining the Educational Background of Young Knife Possession Offenders’ showed that 83% of knife possession offenders were persistently absent from school in at least one of the five academic years from 2008/09 to 2012/13 and a higher than average percentage had been persistently absent and/or excluded from school.
The Taskforce report tells that since 2010 funding cuts have impacted local government, but Camden Council has reduced its budget on youth services much less than most other councils and the funding for voluntary sector youth providers has remained the same. This is a testament to the huge value the council leadership places on the local voluntary and community sector.
Fear and perpetuation. From the young people who spoke to the Taskforce, the apparent need for young people to defend themselves appears to outweigh the fear of penalties that may result if they are caught by police.
Whilst the report estimates that only 0.15% of young people in Camden carry knives relative to the borough’s population of 10 to 17-year-olds, the young people met in focus groups overwhelmingly believed the scale of knife carrying was much higher. And young people, parents and youth workers all felt that the recent spikes in incidents and resulting media coverage are making it more likely that young people in some communities will start carrying a knife.
A general distrust of the police was widespread among the young people that the Taskforce engaged with and the vast majority of young people spoken to feel that ‘stop and search’ tactics unfairly target young black men. Yet parents and the majority of older residents called for more visible police patrols and community police officers.
Every single young person the Taskforce spoke to believed that social media is making the problem of youth violence worse, and linked with social media - a number of professionals raised the problem of negative role models for young men and the issue of ‘toxic masculinity’. The lack of positive role models was raised repeatedly in focus groups with youth workers when asked about some of the causes of youth violence.
Recommendations - The report outlines an extensive amount of information and evidence regarding what can be done to solve the issues mentioned above and others featured in the full report, before moving on to suggesting 17 recommendations to promote youth safety in Camden. The recommendations, categorised under five themes, are not just for the council, but will also require all the relevant partners and communities in Camden to come together to implement the changes.
- The huge goodwill and community spirit which has been shown to the Taskforce should be mobilised by supporting community-led efforts to prevent youth violence and finding ways to make it easier for local residents to volunteer and get involved.
- A Camden-wide ‘public health approach’ to tackle youth violence should be established, which involves young people, parents, residents, schools, businesses, community and voluntary groups, the council, the police and all other local partners who can contribute to keeping our young people safe.
- Robust programmes should be developed to equip young people with the skills and resilience needed to make positive choices and deal with difficult situations, with a focus on those young people moving from primary to secondary school.
- Young people’s access to and ownership of activities in their community which can have a positive impact on their lives should be increased, and information about the borough’s full youth service provision should be brought into one centralised and easy to access place.
- Professional identification of those at risk of being affected by youth violence should be increased to inform effective prevention and support strategies, and ensure appropriate referrals are made by schools, youth workers and other practitioners who work with young people.
- Young people, families, and the wider community should be better able to identify and act on early warning indicators of those at risk of youth violence, with one centralised place for people to contact for advice and help.
- Enable schools, youth workers and other professionals who with work young people to develop trauma-informed practices.
- Additional support for students excluded, at-risk of exclusion or with poor attendance should be provided and schools should have information on the most effective interventions alongside a knowledge-sharing mechanism for best practice.
- Early Help services should be promoted to families where there are indications of additional need, particularly focussing on those who may be least likely to ask for help. Alongside this, community-led parenting programmes which develop parenting skills and promote greater resilience in families should be supported.
- Camden should take a leading role in changing the local conversation about the drugs trade and campaign nationally to highlight the exploitation of children in gangs.
- Ways in which greater trust and cooperation can be fostered between young people and local communities, and the police and other public services should be explored.
- An improved rehousing and resettlement offer should be available for at-risk young people and families, including a pan-London approach on the issue.
- The design and planning of local environments which help reduce crime, encourage the positive use of amenities and make residents feel safer should be promoted.
- Enforcement action should be targeted on those ‘at the top’ of the illegal drugs market who exploit children and young people for profit.
- The borough police, young people and the wider local community should work together to explore ways to ensure stop and search measures are seen to be used fairly, proportionately and in a respectful manner.
Keir Starmer QC, MP for Holborn and St Pancras, and Councillor Abdul Hai, Cabinet Member for Young People and Cohesion at Camden Council, chaired the Taskforce.
Keir Starmer, MP for Holborn and St Pancras, said: “Everybody in Camden was shocked and saddened by the recent increase in youth violence on our streets.
“I firmly believe that no young person should feel unsafe in our community. But for some young people, fear of violence has become part of everyday life. This has to stop.
“This report draws together the findings and recommendations of the Taskforce. Accepting a whole Camden community approach is vital and we must all play our part.
“We now need to build on the Taskforce’s work. This is an issue which affects us all and by working together we look forward to building a better future for our young people.”
Councillor Abdul Hai, Cabinet Member for Young People and Cohesion at Camden Council, said: “I want to thank everyone who has been a part of the youth safety taskforce so far and helped to produce this report - particularly those residents who have shared stories of the personal pain of youth violence in Camden in order to try and stop others in their community going through the same.
“The council, residents, schools, businesses and community groups have come together with the collective desire to improve youth safety in the borough and that is reflected in both the findings and recommendations of this report.
“I am pleased to be able to allocate council funding to help action some of these recommendations and am sure everyone will continue to work together as we look to reduce youth violence and exploitation in Camden.”
Find out more: