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Report 13 of the 5 February 2009 meeting of the Strategic and Operational Policing Committee and provides the MPA response to the London Safeguarding Children’s Board’s 'Safeguarding children affected by gang activity and/or serious youth violence' draft consultation paper.

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MPA response to the London Safeguarding Children’s Board’s 'Safeguarding children affected by gang activity and/or serious youth violence' draft consultation paper

Report: 13
Date: 5 February 2009
By: Chief Executive


The MPA believes that safeguarding is fundamental to any response to children and young people affected by gang activity and or serious youth violence. Ensuring a robust partnership approach that considers the safety and needs of children and young people at risk and which tackles the causes and reasons for involvement in gangs and serious youth violence is vital.

A. Recommendation

That members endorse the report as the Metropolitan Police Authority response to the London Safeguarding Children Board’s consultation paper.

B. Supporting information

1. The Metropolitan Police Authority (MPA) welcomes the opportunity to respond to the London Safeguarding Children Board’s ‘Safeguarding children affected by gang activity and/or serious youth violence’ draft consultation paper. The MPA is particularly pleased that the consultation paper acknowledges that issues of gang activity and or serious youth violence must be considered within the safeguarding framework. Whilst the consequences of gang activity and or serious youth violence have to be tackled forcefully, the reasons for involvement must also be understood and addressed just as robustly to prevent further criminal activity resulting in additional impact on the families and friends of both victims and perpetrators.

2. The MPA also welcomes the principle outlined within the consultation paper of treating both children who are harmed and children who harm as victims. From September 2007 – May 2008 the MPA undertook a youth scrutiny looking at causes, effects and impacts of young people’s involvement in crime as victims, witnesses and perpetrators and how this influenced their interactions and relationships with the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) and other service providers who have a mandate to support and protect them. Over 1,000 young people and adults that work with young people took part in the various consultation activities.

3. During the MPA youth consultation we learnt that there is a strong correlation between victims and offenders. Rather than victims and offenders being two distinct groups, we heard that often they are the same group of young people. Research conducted by the University of Edinburgh and Victim Support indicates that risk factors which result in young people becoming involved in offending behaviour can also result in victimisation. Therefore by preventing victimisation and in particular repeat victimisation we can also begin to address offending behaviour.

4. The MPS has undertaken considerable analysis into the trends in youth violence in particular focusing on the causes and reasons for the increase in serious youth violence. Based on a profile of serious youth violence where both victims and suspects are under 20 years of age, the Metropolitan Intelligence Bureau (MIB) has concluded that serious youth violence will continue as long as youth gangs remain an issue in London. MIB states that ‘the fragmentation of existing gangs will cause unpredictable short term rises in violence as rival factions fight to show supremacy.’ Ensuring a robust partnership approach that considers the safety and needs of children and young people who are at risk of serious youth violence and or gang activity is therefore vital. The recognition by non police professionals of the crucial role that they can play to tackle the causes and results of serious youth violence is welcomed by the MPA.

5. In revising the consultation paper, the MPA suggests that the London Safeguarding Children Board takes the following issues into consideration.

Every Child Matters

6. As stated earlier, the MPA believe that safeguarding is fundamental to any response to children affected by gang activity and or serious youth violence. Safeguarding arrangements under the Children Act 2004 and the overall direction of Every Child Matters [1] should underpin all policies that aim to tackle serious youth violence in order to be effective in the medium and long term. On a practical level, agencies can use Every Child Matters to help identify children and young people exposed to associate risk factors such as trauma, abuse, neglect and domestic violence in order to coordinate responses and provide effective care packages.

Early intervention

7. Research studies [2] have identified a clear link between trauma and neglect experienced in early years with propensity to violence in later life. The Wave Trust article [3], ‘Hand that Rocks the Cradle’ collates findings across social and medical research to consider the effect that abuse, neglect and violence has on child development and the possible correlation with increased levels of violence across society. It concludes that:

“The presence or absence of healthy emotional development has significant implications for the level of violent crime in society. A baby who is healthily attached to its carer can regulate its emotions as it grows older because the cortex, which exercises rational thought and control, has developed properly. But in the case of the child whose life has been badly impacted, the cortex is underdeveloped. The damaged child lacks an "emotional guardian". The result can be unlocked violence that emerges as domestic violence and child abuse in later life.”

Furthermore it adds:

“The brains of abused children are significantly smaller than those of non-abused. The limbic system (governing emotions) is 20-30% smaller and tends to have fewer synapses. The hippocampus (responsible for memory) is also smaller. Both are thought to be due to the toxic effects of the cortisol (a stress hormone)….for a child under threat of violence, the slightest stress unleashes a new surge of stress hormones. This causes hyperactivity, anxiety and impulsive behaviour [4].”

8. The MPA suggests that learning from existing research into early trauma and neglect plays a central role in the development of long term strategies to tackle serious youth violence. With early development in mind, the MPA would suggest that the London Safeguarding Children Board look at research into the current role of Sure Start across London, noting the opportunities it presents in accessing vulnerable families at the earliest opportunity to work with them to tackle and prevent the root causes of violence.

Definition for the term young person

9. In planning the youth scrutiny, it became clear that there is no clear, consistent or authoritative guidance, either in legislation or in practice, as to what constitutes a ‘young person’. Examples of how the term young people can cover a wide range of age bands include:

  • the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which covers all children and young people under the age of 18;

  • the Connexions service which works with 13-19 year-olds in England;

  • Positive Activities for Young People, administered by regional Government Offices, which provide diversionary activities for children and young people aged 8-19 years;

  • the UK Youth Parliament which gives a voice to children and young people aged 11-18; and finally,

  • British law which defines the age of criminal responsibility as being of 10 years and above.

10. The need for a collective definition for the term young person which clearly defines the age bands covered would be useful. In taking forward this guidance, the London Safeguarding Children Board should ascertain how agencies use the term young person to ensure that young people at risk of gangs and or serious youth violence do not fall ‘between the gap’ and that there is a seamless transition from one service provider to another.

The use of the term ‘gang’

11. During the MPA consultation it became clear that the term ‘gang’ did not necessarily have negative or criminal connotations for young people. It was also obvious that their use of the term did not tally with the popular public and professional understanding of the term. For young people, a gang did not inevitably mean organised criminal activity; rather it defined identity, territory and culture. It was also used by young people to describe feelings of belonging, protection and respect. In addition, young people informed the MPA that gangs provided safety and for some young people an alternative family. In short, it became clear that many young people used the term gang to define their social interactions. Whilst the MPA recognises the importance of defining the term gang and welcomes clarity provided by researchers such as Hallsworth and Young [5] and Robert Gordon [6], it is important that professionals recognise that for many young people the term gang is a positive word and that its usage by them may not be referring to group offending or other types of criminal activity.

12. The MPA youth scrutiny also found that at both a regional and local level it was essential that professionals had a collective understanding of the term ‘gang’ and ensured that when it was used in the public domain it was used appropriately and that its usage could be justified. Concerns were expressed by some adult consultees that the indiscriminate use of the term gang by some professionals and by the media to label a wide variety of activities, was not only ‘glamorising’ the behaviour of some young people but also made the concept of a gang attractive to young people who were vulnerable and at risk. Therefore a shared understanding of the term gang amongst local professionals which is also understood and recognised by young people who are affected by gang activity will ensure that responses are measured and appropriate.

13. Other stakeholders including the MPS have also expressed concerns with how the term gang is being used in public discourse. In February 2008 the National Youth Agency held a roundtable discussion on ‘Gun, gang and knife crime: seeking solutions’. A key finding from this discussion was that the term gang had become synonymous with serious crime committed by young people. However, MPS data indicates that not all serious youth violence is linked to gang-related offending, although the MPS are clear that group dynamics and gang culture can play a part in some youth offending. The MPS Strategic Research and Analysis Unit (SRAU) review of the youth homicides in 2007 indicated that 14 of 26 (52%) of the homicides are believed to be gang related.

14. Finally, it is essential that the terms serious youth violence and gangs are not confused and used interchangeably as this can obscure the problem resulting in the development of ineffective responses.

Think family

15. The MPA welcomes the whole family approach that is outlined in the consultation paper. In its analysis of serious youth violence, the MPS has also recommended the early identification of young people at risk. The MPS suggests devising whole family approaches which work with families and the siblings of young people who are known to be involved in violent crime in order to deter siblings from becoming involved in serious crime.

16. The draft consultation paper states that ‘every attempt should be made to work with parents on a voluntary basis to minimise the harm’, however, greater clarity is required on how those parents who are reluctant to become involved will be supported and in some instances coerced to take part. Information on what leverages would be available to support professionals should be provided in the final paper.

17. In those instances where a parent is unable or unwilling to take part, consideration should also be given to involving trusted extended family members and other adults, such as teachers and youth workers, who are known to have a positive influence on the young person.

Hot spots

18. The MPS SRAU have undertaken a borough by borough analysis of geographical locations which plot where youth violence; serious youth violence and youth stabbing incidences have occurred in 2005 to 2007/08. This highlights that the vast majority of incidences in each category have occurred in the same few boroughs and that these geographical locations are predominately those parts of London which also have pockets of serious deprivation. The head of the unit, Professor Betsy Stanko, has argued in relation to serious youth violence, that the importance of locations must be understood by all professionals and be bought to the forefront, rather than dealt as a secondary issue. She believes that the needs of young people living in high risk environments, who daily negotiate a gauntlet of intimidation in their immediate neighbourhoods, must be recognised and taken into account in the development of responses to address gang and/or serious youth violence.

19. The SRAU have also undertaken a provisional comparison of the youth homicides in 2007 to those that occurred in 2008. This highlighted that due to the MPS proactive response to gang activity there were fewer gang related homicides in 2008 than in 2007. The comparison also identified that homicides which are a result of personal conflict (for example: disrespect and heated arguments) have increased. Whilst this is worrying, it is important to recognise that personal conflict can be a motivational factor for homicide regardless of age.

Alcohol and drugs

20. The draft consultation paper states that ‘alcohol plays a major role in interpersonal violence involving young people.’ However, MPS data and MPA consultation findings have not drawn a strong correlation between the use and abuse of alcohol and serious youth violence. A MPS analysis into the 26 homicides of young people in 2007 showed that alcohol and drug factors were rarely present. In addition a further analysis undertaken on those offences flagged as gang related by the MPS indicated that only a very few of the victims or suspects were believed to be under the influence of drink or drugs when the offence had occurred.

21. In addition, only a small handful of the 1,000 young people and adults that the MPA consulted with during the duration of the youth scrutiny mentioned the use and abuse of drugs or alcohol by young people. There was a belief amongst the young consultees that binge drinking was a bigger problem in rural areas than in the Capital and amongst the Black and Minority Ethnic young people there was a perception that only White young people abused alcohol.

22. Whilst there was little mention of the use and abuse of drugs and alcohol by young people, consultees informed the MPA that children and young people were often forced to carry and sell drugs by young adults and gang members. In addition, this illegal trade added to the post code ‘turf wars’ and issues of territorialism which many young people at risk are affected by and concerned with. In light of the MPA findings, it may be useful for the London Safeguarding Children Board to not only consider the use and abuse of alcohol and drugs but also consider the impact of young people’s involvement, whether voluntary or coerced, in organised crime.

Intelligence and information sharing

23. The MPA endorses the recommendation that Local Authorities ‘nominate a local professional who can develop specialist knowledge in relation to gangs and serious youth violence.’ However, the MPA would also suggest that local professionals make use of MPS data and analysis subject to usual agreements. Whilst providing a regional overview, this information would also provide each borough with information on incidences of serious youth violence and gang activity occurring in neighbouring boroughs which may in turn impact on their own. MPS data can also provide an insight into the causes of serious youth violence and gang activity ensuring that at a local level limited resources are targeted appropriately.

24. In addition to local professionals using available MPS data it would be worthwhile for London professionals to consider conducting research on knife, gun and gang crime. It has been argued that there is an over reliance on American research to inform the development of UK policy and practice and therefore current approaches may not be suitable for London or for that matter a UK wide context.

25. Despite great improvements in partnership working silo working still prevails in some areas and this can result in some young people at risk not being identified. For example, MPS analysis of the 2007 youth homicides has highlighted that a number of the 2007 homicides were preceded by smaller violent events. Therefore intelligence sharing across partners would allow partners to identify young people at risk in order to provide them with the appropriate interventions.

26. This routine sharing of appropriate information between agencies is also of importance for a secondary reason. Research including the MPA consultation has consistently highlighted that young people are reluctant to report crimes to the police. There are many reasons for this reluctance, one of the key being that young people fear for their own safety and the safety of their families and friends. Therefore whilst police data on a young person at risk may not be immediately available due to the underreporting of crimes to the police by young people, information from other agencies (including Accident and Emergency Data) which can be used to develop appropriate interventions is essential.

27. There a number of assessment frameworks that could be looked at and adapted to safeguard young people at risk of gangs and or serious youth violence. The current health assessment framework for example, which provides an opportunity to identify families at risk, and the Coordinated Action against Domestic Abuse risk assessment model, which has a broad victim-centred approach could both provide a basis on which to develop a framework for safeguarding children. Finally, the MPS PREVENT strategy requires Borough Command Units to develop arrangements with Crime Disorder Reduction Partnership (CDRP) to receive information from local partners regarding victims who may be vulnerable to radicalisation. This framework could also be adapted to the purposes of reducing gang and serious youth violence.

28. Given the risk factors associated with familial and life circumstances any new assessment framework should include families and communities. Aside from the identification of young people at risk, processes should also provide opportunities to support and engage with families and other trusted adults to consider how child victims and their siblings, who may also potentially be at risk, can be safeguarded.

29. The House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee’s forty-fifth report [7] underlines the need for better data collection and analysis to support the development of strategies to reduce the risk of violent crime. Better use of pan-London resources, such as London Analysts Support and the London Community Safety Partnership could make a significant contribution to achieving this aim by developing and building upon London-wide current datasets or by conducting research into the nature and existence of gangs across London. This could also assist in identifying the cross-borough dimension of gang and serious youth violence, which could in turn feed into borough level processes.

30. At a borough level there are several CDRP processes, which could be better utilised by the London Safeguarding Children Board. For example, many boroughs operate joint tasking groups which facilitate the identification of current risks and information sharing around policing and community safety and through which joint action/tasking is implemented. There needs to be synergy between the joint tasking process and safeguarding assessment processes to ensure that appropriate information and intelligence is shared and utilised. Similarly, there needs to be links between the strategic assessment process, through which CDRPs analyse levels and patterns of crime, disorder and substance misuse and which includes an horizon scanning dimension to inform local partnership priorities, and safeguarding assessment processes to ensure that future risks, such as demographic changes are identified and considered.

31. There also needs to be greater emphasis on third sector involvement and the development of mechanisms to facilitate this involvement. Third sector organisations can often provide useful community intelligence.

32. Finally, the MPS has also highlighted the crucial role that schools, Pupil Referral Units and colleges can play in prevention and identifying risk. Challenging behaviour at schools can indicate risk. Schools, Pupil Referral Units and colleges have the opportunity to identify conflict – referred to by the MPS as pre cursor indicators - at an early stage and together with Local Authority agencies, Safer Schools Partnerships and Safer Neighbourhoods Teams consider what support and intervention is required.

C. Race and equality impact

1. Whilst the draft consultation paper may not directly impact on the work of the MPA, as part of the MPA Every Child Matters responsibilities, the Authority must monitor and ensure that the MPS is in turn fulfilling its duty to protect children and young people from harm. Therefore the MPA would recommend that in the revision of the draft a full Equality Impact Assessment is undertaken by the London Safeguarding Children Board.

D. Financial implications

1. The final ‘Safeguarding children affected by gang activity and/or serious youth violence’ guidance will be taken forward by borough Safeguarding Boards of which MPS borough teams are key partners. The arrangements being proposed in the guidance ‘firm up’ and add to existing protocols and as such are likely to be part of the mainstream MPS safeguarding and child protection procedures. At a local level, Borough Commanders may choose to allocate additional resources to Safeguarding Boards if there is scope to do so.

E. Background papers


F. Contact details

Report author: Hamera Asfa Davey, MPA

For information contact:

MPA general: 020 7202 0202
Media enquiries: 020 7202 0217/18


1. The Children Act 2004 sets out a statutory requirement for all agencies working with children and young people to work in partnership to ensure that all children are able to achieve in life. Section 10 sets out a duty for all agencies to cooperate to improve well-being and Section 11 sets out a duty to promote safeguarding and well-being. This forms the basis of 'Every Child Matters – Change for Children’, which sets out how agencies should work together to safeguard children expanding the remit of safeguarding to encompass five key strands: 1) Be Healthy 2) Stay Safe 3) Enjoy and Achieve 4) Make a Positive Contribution and 5) Achieve Economic Well-Being [Back]

2. Bremner, J.D., Randall, P., Scott, T.M., Bronen, R.A., Seibyl, J.P., Southwick, S.M., Delaney, R.C., McCarthy, G., Charney, D.S., Innis, R.B. (1995). MRI-based measurement of hippocampal volume in patients with combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry 152(7), July 1995, 973-81 57. Bremner, J.D., Vythilingam, M., Vermetten, E., Southwick, S.M., McGlashan, T., Nazeer, A., et al (2003). MRI and PET Study of Deficits in Hippocampal Structure and Function in Women with Childhood Sexual Abuse and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry 160, May 2003, 924-932 58. Teicher, M. H. (2000). Wounds That Time Won’t Heal: The Neurobiology of Child Abuse. Cerebrum, 2, 4 (Fall 2000). [McLean Hospital study] 59 Eisler, R. & Levine, D.S [Back]

3. [Back]

4. The transfer of information from signal sending (presynaptic)to signal receiving (postsynaptic) cell is a complex process, called synaptic transmission [Back]

5. Hallsworth S. & Young T. (2004) Getting Real About Gangs, Criminal Justice matters 55 12-13 [Back]

6. Gordon R. (2000) Criminal Business Organisations, Street gangs and ‘Wanna Be’ Groups: A Vancouver perspective, Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice, Vol.42 No.1 [Back]

7. Reducing the Risk of Violent Crime HC 546, Forty-fifth Report of Session 2007-08 - Report, Together with Formal Minutes, Oral and Written Evidence, House of Commons - Committee of Public Accounts, TSO (The Stationery Office) [Back]

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