By Dame Rachel de Souza, Children’s Commissioner for England
Over the past year, 39% of teenage children in England and Wales have either been either a victim of or witness to violence. These experiences have significant and widespread consequences – 1 in 7 teenagers said they’d missed school because they’re scared of violence. The same number said that they’re unable to concentrate in lessons, worrying about what might happen at the school gate.
These figures, taken from the Youth Endowment Fund’s Children, violence and vulnerability report 2022, should be a wake-up call for us all. If every child in England is to have an equal opportunity to get an education, a job they love and a fulfilling life, we must do whatever works to prevent violence.
That means paying attention to children’s voices and to the evidence of what reduces violence. As Children’s Commissioner, this is my first and most important role: to listen to what children tell me, and to reflect it back to policy makers so that we can act on it. My first act when I took office was to launch the largest consultation ever held with children, The Big Ask, to find out about children’s aspirations, how they feel about the future and their views on the challenges facing the world. I have used their responses – more than half a million of them – to inform every piece of work my office has subsequently developed.
I have also been relentless in my focus on making sure we understand the drivers of harmful outcomes, including youth violence. This year I have explored, through a series of reports on school attendance, how we can maximise engagement in education. It is clear why a child who is not doing anything productive or enjoyable may become involved in harmful behaviour; whether through low self-esteem, negative peer pressure or a feeling of isolation, leaving them with no other option. I have prioritised school attendance because I truly believe a good school – one which not only offers great teaching, but also access to appropriate mental health, social care and SEND support – is the best place for every child.
I agree with the Youth Endowment Fund that if we are serious about keeping children safe, we must properly listen to one group of children in particular – those who have at some point been arrested. These children are not just those most likely to become involved in violence, they are also those most likely to become victims. What we do to help these children can make a huge difference.
That’s why I’m proud to be joining a new Strategic Advisory Group for arrested children. This group – set up by the Youth Endowment Fund – is bringing together leaders from across the criminal justice sector who are passionate about supporting children. Together, we will explore the very best ways to divert these children away from violence. That might be through an offer of mental health support to children in police custody, or by removing the barriers in the way of them getting back into school, training, or finding a rewarding job. It could be by providing holistic support for the whole family – something that my own work, through the Independent Family Review, has shown to be immensely protective for children. The Family Review argued that a positive approach to parenting, and support services that focus on the strengths of families, has the power to protect children from harmful outcomes.
We know from the Youth Endowment Fund’s research that this sort of diversionary activity reduces violence. But we don’t yet know which is the most effective, or for which children. We also don’t know which changes – in policy and practice – will keep children even safer.
I am determined that the work of this group will change that. Together we will identify changes that can protect children who are arrested, reduce levels of violence and make this country a safer place for all of our children to grow up.
Do you want to hear from our Strategic Group on Diversion, and our work to create practical, evidence led-guidance? Sign-up to our diversion mailing list.
BlogOne teenager punches and kicks another until the victim curls up in the foetal position on the ground. A boy sexually assaults a girl, while his friends cheer him on from the sidelines.
BlogThe Youth Endowment Fund is partnering with the Government and Youth Futures Foundation to deliver and evaluate summer jobs programmes for up to 2,600 young people at risk of becoming involved in youth violence and crime.
BlogThe study was commissioned to synthesise learning about the design, implementation and effectiveness of place-based approaches.