Secret Social Worker: knife crime

Lila Halliday on the void at the centre of knife crime

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Last weekend brought news of the tragic murder of 17-year-old Jodie Chesney, who was stabbed in a London park without any known motive.Initial reports said this was a “totally unprovoked attack”. I immediately guessed that Jodie was not the usual stab victim. Of course we soon learned that Jodie was a sixth form student and a girl scout. Shortly afterwards reports came in of the murder of another 17 year old, Yusef Makki, a gifted young man who attended public school in Manchester. This tragic act of violence has been described as “senseless”, which of course stabbing always are.

Stabbings need to be reported with the weight of coverage they received last weekend – it’s provided welcome attention to a national issue – but that level of coverage is not afforded for young people from lower income communities who are victims of such crimes.

Last year 347 children under the age of 16 presented at British hospitals with stab wounds. Where is the mass outrage and media coverage? The truth is that the lives of these young people are not held in such high esteem as Chesney and Makki’s. They are seen as complicit in the violence they suffer because of where they’re from, how they do in school and possibly their own involvement in crime prior to their attack. These are children who have been let down and treated as disposable by the system and society as a whole, and who are blamed for their own disadvantage.

Many young people I work with are involved in organised crime groups. Many of these children are exploited by criminal gangs to commit crimes and are subject to extremely traumatic situations and scenes of abhorrent violence. Drug running and carrying knives are their employment and these gangs are their family. For children who have been, in many cases, rejected by their own families and are being looked after by an organisation, it is almost impossible to counteract the lure of a gang – money, status, respect and, most importantly, love, loyalty and family. We in social services are a poor substitute.

The government’s response is a punitive and superficial one – increased stop and search and so-called knife Asbos do not address the pervasive marginalisation of children from deprived areas. Knife crime is being described as a national crisis of epidemic proportions, with former members of the police force calling for military deployment on British streets and police commissioners promising 3,000 more police officers to be employed, in an attempt to make amends for the 20,000 lost at the hands of our current Tory government. But is a more robust police response all we need? Is the loss of 20,000 police officers the only thing that is to blame for the blood shed on British streets?

Former government social policy advisor Dame Louise Casey pointed out to Channel 4 News in response to these most recent stabbings: “There isn’t a prevention and a cure strategy, which is what we need.”

The early intervention budget has been cut by 40 per cent in recent years and the complete void, in what used to be a creative and effective youth service, is visible across the nation. I used to work in the youth service and although taking a group of kids paintballing, raft building and gorge walking didn’t feel like paid employment for me, the positive impact it had on those children was significant. Services like this just don’t exist in our communities any longer and we are desperately in need of them.

Reporting the murders of some children over others is placing a value system on the lives of children. Children from respectable homes are portrayed as truly innocent and make for more worthy victims and a more shocking news story, while children who are sullied by society’s failure to care for them are devalued, perpetuating the cycle of disadvantage and ultimately the cycle of violence. People who commit crimes are more likely to become victims of crimes but this is not karma – this is children stabbing children. These are families being torn apart by acts of violence that are born of a systemic failure to look after impoverished communities and ensure that their young people have an equal shot at life.

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