It’s Knife Crime Awareness Week, and with it comes an opportunity to think differently about how we respond to a complex set of issues, and ensure young people are involved in creating solutions.

We are all too familiar with this issue being sensationalised. We hear calls for greater criminalisation and incarceration of young people who perpetrate harm, as well as calls for police to increase their use of ‘stop and search’ despite concerns it is used to disproportionately target people from ethnic minorities. Very rarely do we hear people talk about the role of young people, both those who have been harmed and those who might have perpetrated harm, as part of the solution.

Understanding the root causes

People often assume that knife crime is a new issue amongst young people, but it isn’t. We can trace it to the Scuttlers of the 19th century, and in many gangs around the UK over the decades that have followed.

I know from my work with the Peer Action Collective (PAC) – a project that engaged 4,600 10 to 20-year-olds with experience of violence in England and Wales – that poverty, unemployment, and fears for personal safety all influence young people to carry knives. Rather than seeing young people as either ‘perpetrators’ or ‘victims’, we need to acknowledge them as citizens with the first-hand experience and vital perspective needed to create solutions to ensure no more young lives are lost. This is what will set this generation apart from previous ones, who have failed to tackle this issue.

I have worked with young people, particularly those on the margins, throughout my career. From sports halls to classrooms and now in peer research. I can tell you that there is no end to the potential and capacity of young people to create active change. I wanted to work on the PAC project for many reasons, but a lot of them connect back to my experience working in alternative education. I can still remember the first time I witnessed a young boy permanently excluded for carrying a knife – a decision that I still disagree with. We cast a scared boy to the streets instead of putting alternative support in place, to protect others and to protect him. We know that schools, trusted adults, and positive activities all have a role to play in ensuring that young people are supported and able to live full lives.

A complex landscape

In recent months, we have heard politicians call for tougher sentences and responses to crime – and the volume may increase on that as we near the General Election on 4 July – but this does not address the underlying causes and so will not solve the problem. Instead, we risk losing more young people not only to knife crime but also to the criminal justice system.

The reasons for young people’s involvement in knife crime are multifaceted and so must our solutions be. They must be innovative, recognising that there isn’t a single tool to tackle this issue. And there’s great work going on, reaching 11k young people across England and Wales by 2028, and including not only youth-led, peer-to-peer research projects to bring us closer to the experiences of young people, but also series of social action projects where young people will use the insights they have heard to develop projects and initiatives to help reduce the number of young people involved in and affected by youth violence.

Here at The Young Foundation, we understand and believe in the capacity of young people to be change-makers and stakeholders. As someone who is passionate about working with young people, I urge politicians and other key players to see them as genuine stakeholders who have voices worth listening to and ideas worth building on. The older we get, the further we move away from understanding the current challenges facing young people in a rapidly changing world.

Community needs & priorities Community wellbeing Criminal justice Education & Employment Families & Youth Social action knife crime knife crime awarness week young people youth violence Posted on: 23 May 2024 Authors: Chelsea McDonagh,

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