Former children’s commissioner Anne Longfield has launched a new independent commission to stop the “conveyor belt” of vulnerable teenagers becoming involved in serious violence, criminal gangs, and subsequently falling into the justice system.
The 'Commission on Young Lives' aims to devise a new and achievable support system focused on preventing crisis and improving opportunities for vulnerable children at risk of getting into trouble with the law. The new organisation will look at how to better support families, keep children in schools, and improve the mental health support available for children and young people.
The “cocktail of risk” that is denying children “their chance to do well in life”
The launch of the Commission comes amid concerns from those working with vulnerable children that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused a resurgence in violent knife crime and gang activity, has caused more children to struggle with their mental health, and has precipitated more unstable households, including prolonged exposure to instances of domestic abuse and violence during the lockdowns.
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Moreover, a recent report considering the lives of children in the criminal justice system highlighted the pervasiveness and social cost of comparable early experiences of abuse, trauma, and violence. The Punishing Abuse report, commissioned by West Midlands Combined Authority, found that of the 80 children studied, 90% had potentially been abused, 70% were victims of violence, and 70% lived in poverty.
The report’s findings demonstrated that early exposures to instability, vulnerability and violence are intimately connected to later expressions of adverse and criminal behaviours. Similar to the focus of the new Commission, the report made clear for many professionals and experts that there needs to be a greater institutional focus on early intervention to prevent young people from encountering law enforcement and becoming trapped in the court and criminal justice system.
More generally, the public is also increasingly growing concerned about the vulnerability of children. Polling carried out for the Commission on Young Lives revealed that many parents in England worry about the impact to their children of rising cases of knife crime, gang violence, and drugs. The study showed that:
- 60% of respondents were concerned that their child would become a victim of knife crime or serious violence.
- 78% of parents agreed or strongly agreed that children these days are at higher risk of being involved in violence or crime than when they were a child.
- 45% of respondents felt that the government should focus on addressing youth violence and crime, behind only mental health (49%) in terms of priority.
“We need to fight back with coordinated national action”
Anne Longfield, chair of the Commission on Young Lives, said at the launch: “Covid has dealt a strong hand to the gangs and criminals who exploit vulnerable children. It has compounded the cocktail of risks like domestic violence, parental mental health problems, addiction issues, and not attending school that can see children falling off the radar and into danger.”
“Society is struggling to know what to do, and the response is often disjointed, underfunded and uncoordinated. Yet this is an issue that many parents are deeply worried about, and they fear is getting worse.”
“The Commission on Young Lives will develop systems of protection and support to help keep vulnerable children safe and inspire them to succeed. We will show how we can achieve better outcomes for marginalised children by providing affordable solutions to government and others.”
“We need to start fighting back with coordinated national action that stops the conveyor belt of vulnerable children who are being groomed, abused and denied their chance to do well in life.”