Reflections on the relationship between youth violence and social exclusion – Takeaways from a House of Commons event on solving youth violence


In this blog, Commission Member Dez Brown provides his takeaways from a House of Commons event on solving youth violence.

On 16 June, Professor Janet Walker, Chair of the Commission, and I were invited to the House of Commons to take part in a Select Committee-style event on solving youth violence and finding effective policy responses to child criminal exploitation. This event had been organised by Stephen Timms MP (East Ham) and Lyn Brown MP (West Ham) and was attended by a number of leading experts in the field of youth violence. Stephen Timms introduced the event by reporting that Newham has the highest number of knife crime deaths for a decade. Thirty teenagers were murdered in London in 2021 and five teenagers had been murdered in the first six months of 2022. There is a clear link to poverty, and child poverty is on the rise. The challenge is how to help young people living in Newham.

The event comprised four sessions: (1) Insights from Policing; (2) Contextual Safeguarding; (3) The Role of Children's Services and (4) Interventions and Gang Exit.  Our role as representatives of the Archbishops’ Commission on Families and Households was to reflect on the opportunities for church and faith based groups to provide support and services to families and young people in their communities.

We gained some sobering insights and statistics from across the four panels. We heard from one police representative that 40-50% of the youth violence cases they handle have been raised in environments where there is significant domestic abuse; 66% are not in full time education; 77% of serious violence committed is by teenagers on teenagers; and that of those murdered the age range is 13-19.  Some 65% of the teenagers involved in youth crime are black; they are over-policed and under-protected. An area of concern identified by many of the police spokespeople was school exclusion and/or young people being on the school roll but not attending – truancy is a leading indicator of young people at risk of criminal or sexual exploitation. Schools were described as providing a litmus test for youth violence. There was a consensus that arresting young people is not the answer to the problem: thy need to be taken by the hand and supported, looking at their mental health and how to improve their learning. There is a need for focused interventions and national information sharing. A major problem is silo working across agencies and departments - agencies fail children when they are not joined up.

Contextual safeguarding (protection from harm outside the family home) was relevant here, and the Committee heard in particular from Dr Carlene Firmin, Professor of Sociology at Durham University.  Understanding where harm occurs, where areas of concern are, and making sure that there are safe environments for young people to socialise to reduce the risk of becoming involved in crime is a key element. Grooming offers love to a child who then gets drawn into a gang. Early intervention is essential. Not shutting down places, moving the problem on to somewhere else, but actively equipping and empowering organisations and professionals that work with young people to be able to make the places where they socialise safe is a key aim.


The use of language and cultural attitudes in shifting away from negative stereotyping was identified by Steve Chalke, Founder, and leader of Oasis Global. In Portugal, for example, when a young person goes wrong, the question asked is “As a society how did we fail this child?”  In England the headline would be “12-year old runs county line” rather than “Police free 12-year old from exploitation by county lines drug runners”.  Concerns that we live in a blame culture. A key message is to change the language away from negative stereotyping. Some children have problems but are not a problem. Children should not be seen as the problem, they need to be loved. Children need support not punishment.

Relevant to this is the work being done at Oxford by Dr Rachel Condrey, Professor of Criminology. Dr Condrey told the meeting that they are working on neurodiversity of the brain, in particular on emotional intelligence: indications are that the brain does not fully develop until the age of 24, yet in England children aged 10 are accorded legal responsibility for their actions.  If a young person doesn’t have the appropriate level of emotional intelligence, they don’t have the ability to prevent themselves being exploited by somebody older.

The police representatives explained that young people are wary of giving a formal statement for fear of this being provided to a defendant in a case thereby identifying them and their families. They could then be targeted for reprisals.

The meeting heard that there have been many recommendations to Parliament in recent years about how best to tackle these issues:

    • 10 for a joined-up approach;
    •  5 for social media accountability;
    • 3 for school exclusions;
    • 3 for work with families;
    • 1 for compulsory registration of mobile phones;
    • 2 for increasing the quality and consistency of interventions;
    • 3 for increasing the number of prosecutions that child criminal exploitation exploiters and their enablers need to be accountable for;
    • 6 for a shift in focus to prevention; and finally
    • 1 to support for professionals working with children.

The conclusions I drew at the end of the sessions were as follows:

  1. Give young people who are subject to an order the ability to be allowed to work as part of their sentence; this would give them dignity and self-respect;
  2. Review zero-tolerance policies around school exclusions. Look at young people through a trauma-informed lens, asking the question “What has happened to you for you to do that?”;
  3. The Modern Slavery Act needs to have a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation, leading to a national awareness campaign about the role all of society can play in ending child criminal exploitation;
  4. Declutter the number of professionals who provide family support, i.e. have one central voluntary sector advocate acting on behalf of a family to navigate the system (housing, social care, education)

Following the meeting, a number of recommendations have been developed by Stephen Timms and Lyn Brown to be submitted to the Home Affairs Select Committee. These include the introduction of a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation within the Modern Slavery Bill; a more joined up approach to dealing with youth violence; more accountability by the social media platforms; increased work with families; and increasing the quality and consistency of interventions. There is also a desire for a shift to focus on prevention and provide more support for professionals working with children.

Understanding what support families and households need to get through what is and often can be a traumatic experience, both for the victims and perpetrators, is where the Commission, through our ongoing work, will show in our Report where churches and other faith-based groups can step in. Providing safe places and communities, driven not by profit, but by vocation, as part of their mission around social justice and racial justice for young people at risk of violence and criminal and sexual exploitation.


Dez Brown
July 2022