At the end of March, a special report on the UK Knife Crime ‘epidemic’ was released. ITV London’s Ria Chatterjee interviewed teenage girls who support their male friends caught up in the violence. Putting the spotlight on those young women allowed us to hear their stories and understand the support they require. We also heard from professionals who support these young girls, in an education setting. Understanding the varied roles that girls play in gangs is crucial to tackling all aspects of youth violence, including gender based violence.
As report author of girls, gangs and their abusive relationships, I was brought on at the end to provide comment on the situation and why these young women and girls may not be seeking support for themselves. But, the age of the young people interviewed is important to note, as they were all in school.
Education is a key partner in the multi-agency response to youth violence. School is a place of safety for many young people, neutral territory where there are professionals watching over them. This is why so few schools have ‘problems’ with knife crime, as the violence often takes place outside of school. In girls, gangs and their abusive relationships, charities and law enforcement recognised schools were a key partner and argued that they were both trying to achieve the same goals of keeping young people safe and able to achieve their best outcomes. Despite the importance of schools however, due to the fragmented nature of our education system, there is no guaranteed standard across schools in a local authority area in terms of access to community based services, internal training for school staff or processes for referrals for support. As a consequence, school commissioned specialist support and provision is important to support both students and staff.
‘Many young people will be missed if we rely on referrals alone. Working inside the school we have access to more young people under one roof, we can support their needs individually and in groups. I create safe spaces within schools as that’s where they spend majority of their time on a weekly basis. Plus this is where young people share conversations so our messages , education, advice and support has a direct impact.’ – Jenni Steele, Project Yana
Programmes such as the Yana Project, which work with young people affected by gang related violence, sexual grooming, exploitation and abuse are pivotal in supporting young people in education settings. The project is run by Jenni Steele, who comes across as approachable, down to earth and non-threatening, all of which enable her to build trusting relationships with young people in the schools in London that she works in. Her background is unique in that she is a trained Young Persons Independent Domestic Violence Advisor (Idva), with years of experience in youth work. This combination of skill sets is perfect for working with young women and girls affected by gangs, but also supporting all young people who may be exhibiting harmful behaviours. This service fits in line with recommendations 5, 8, 12 and 18 of the girls, gangs and their abusive relationships report (see below).
Recommendations from Girls, gangs and their abusive relationships
R5. Domestic abuse practitioners and IDVAs should be able to access training on how
to provide support for women and girls affected by gangs, in areas where there are high rates of community violence.
R8. Frontline workers in gang intervention and youth violence should undertake
training on the dynamics of power and control and the consequences of domestic
abuse. Many of their service users will have been exposed to domestic abuse at some point in their lives and it will affect their attachments, mental health and wellbeing.
R12. Organisations that deliver frontline services for those affected by gangs should ensure they have female outreach staff. Young people are more likely to engage in a service where people look like them, if the team is male, females may be alienated and not seek support.
R18. Training and resources on how to support both boys and girls to be made
available for schools in areas where pupils are high risk of being affected by gangs.
With clear referral pathways for teachers to refer young people to get support.
All education partners aspire to ensure young people in their care are getting the right support, at the right time. An important first step for those that exist in areas with high rates of community violence, is to invest in practitioners who understand the dynamics of gender based violence and how it relates to gang manipulation and control.