Youth knife crime review stresses agencies’ powerlessness

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Exercise in hopelessness: the cover of the youth knife crime review

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Exercise in hopelessness?: the cover of Croydon’s youth knife crime review

It is not difficult to summon up that feeling of absolute hopelessness that occurred on a morning last autumn when you first heard the news that a 15-year-old schoolgirl, Elianne Andam, had been stabbed to death while on her way to school, and that her attacker was another teenager. That stomach-wrenching feeling that has recurred far too many times for it ever to be forgotten.

Last year, there were 11 murders in Croydon, where two of the fatal victims were teenagers and another two were just 20 years old.

Two years before, in 2021, five teenagers were killed in Croydon, the highest number in any London borough. Three of those murders prompted the research and publication today of a Serious Youth Violence Thematic Review, conducted by the CSCP – the Croydon Safeguarding Children Partnerhip, a body made up of agencies including the council and “police, health, education and community partners”.

It’s not very far into the 55-page report before there’s that feeling of hopelessness and utter despair all over again.

The report looks at what was done, or what might have been done better, to deter seven “children/young people” (the CSCP’s preferred terminology) from violence. All but one of the seven were under-18. All were found guilty of criminal offences following the three unrelated incidents.

But the review says: “A wide range of services and interventions were provided to six of the children/young people over several years and persistent attempts were made to engage them.

“The overriding message is that by the time statutory services were involved it was too late – more robust early intervention was needed at an earlier point in the child/young person’s life… it is not entirely clear what interventions would have made a discernible difference.” Our italics.

And that’s from the council, the police and the school authorities who, it would be reasonable to assume, have the authority and the powers to provide support, guidance and structures that any reasonable person might hope could avoid the multiple tragedies of teens dying on our streets.

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‘Inspiring’: Borough Commander Andy Brittain (centre, white shirt) addresses the press after Elianne Andam’s murder on Wednesday. Also present were Jason Perry (far right), MP Sarah Jones, and Anthony King and Donna Murray-Turner of the Safer

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Failing to make a difference: police and others after Elianne Andam’s murder last September, that showed that youth crime continues to take a dreadful toll

That conclusion could be seen by some as a convenience, to absolve those still operating, some in the third sector, often in receipt of public funding, from responsibility for society’s failures to avoid such tragedies.

Croydon’s report is to be reviewed by local authorities across this city and around the country, all of them desperate to find some solution, or even a hint, at steps that might be taken to reduce and eradicate youth knife crime on our streets. They may be disappointed.

According to Croydon Council today, “More than 100 professionals including 60 frontline practitioners, 50 community partners and the parents and families of victims, as well as children and young people involved in violence and their families, have contributed to the final report.”

The review goes back as far as 2010, looking at the children’s lives. It analyses the help that they and their families received from social care, the police, health and community groups.

‘The help that was provided did not alter the outcomes’

The council states, “The review identifies common themes in the complex causes of serious youth violence – including early childhood trauma, domestic violence, substance misuse, school exclusions, county lines and offending behaviour.

“It also finds evidence of positive influences in the children and young people’s lives, including faith, engagement in education, strong family relationships, career ambitions, and thoughtful trusted relationships with professionals.”

The report offers 10 key principles to strengthen the local and national response to serious youth violence. They range from early identification of learning needs and preventing school exclusions, to hearing family voices and considering the importance of place for children and young people – as well as tenacity from professionals in the face of non-engagement.

The council says that, “A local task and finish group is underway to translate the learning into action.”

The council’s executive director in charge of children’s services, Debbie Jones, is also allowed to chair the CSCP.

Today, Jones said: “On behalf of the Croydon Safeguarding Children Partnership, my condolences to the families of the three young people who lost their lives, and all those who were impacted by these tragic events.

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‘Shut up’: staff allege Debbie Jones’s remarks may have persuaded Pendry to quit

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Council director: Debbie Jones

“Our heartfelt thanks to everyone who has revisited painful events to contribute to this important review and given us the opportunity to hear their voices.

“Most of the children in this review were provided with extensive support from a young age, delivered over many years by a wide range of professionals. The review highlights many examples of caring, compassionate support from committed individuals. Yet the help that was provided did not alter their outcomes.

“Many of these children experienced trauma during their early years and by their mid-teens they were being exploited and became victims of violence.

“It is devastating that they were involved in the criminal justice system by their late teens and two of them were imprisoned for murder before their 18th birthdays.

“Much has changed since these children first came to the notice of statutory services 10 years ago – but there is still a lot we can learn from these tragedies, not only in Croydon but across the country. We are sharing this review and its 10 key principles for reducing violence nationally.

“In Croydon, we will be working with the community to put in place an action plan and take this important learning forward.”

Read more: Croydon in 2023: London’s borough with most murder victims


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