Everyone has been affected by the covid crisis, and that includes young people too. Youngsters often get overlooked in our politics, sometimes simply because it’s a group that don’t vote and lack power.
This is the generation that have had their education disrupted more than any other since 1940’s, and they’ll emerge into an economy that will be reeling from this for years to come.
As we’ve eased lockdown the services there to support and educate young people are also many of the ones that are last to open. Youth clubs and schools remain closed, and places where healthy activity takes place like sports clubs and gyms are only just starting to open. I really do pity the challenges faced by young people right now just as I do the many others with specific challenges posed by the crisis.
So when we see large groups of youngsters gathering and getting loud of rowdy, yes I want it dealt with but I’m the last person to judge or brand them as I know that they have been cooped up, denied structured activity and education, and prevented from seeing friends and experiencing the rights-of-passage everyone enjoys at their age like graduations, prom nights, and sporting events.
But there’s also an underlying problem that predates covid, and that’s supporting young people early enough before they start making poor decisions about their behaviour.
In recent weeks there’s been a spike in violence and antisocial behaviour committed by young people. Only last week we saw a group of people as young as 14 attack and injure police officers locally. For me this just illustrates how complex issues relating to young people are.
Many of the young people who end up committing offences are themselves victims, of either neglect, abuse, or exploitation. I’m thinking of emerging criminal activity like ‘county lines’ where drug gangs coerce children into running drugs for them because they know it’s harder for police to detect and intervene on children. These children are perpetrators and victims at the same time which shows how tough these issues are to deal with.
These are the kind of things I’m thinking a lot about in my frontbencher role now which covers youth justice. One of the things that really concerns me of the amount of power government aren’t using to help young people make better choices.
The last Labour government created ‘parenting orders’ which placed duties on parents to change their own behaviour in relation to their children. Used properly they are really effective, but the problem is the government has all but stopped using them.
So I raised this recently in the Commons. Over 5,000 children were arrested in the last year, but only 118 parenting orders were issued.
It’s an obsession of mine. By the time a child commits a crime and is arrested, you can bet that there were dozens of times that various agencies were aware of their behaviour, or that of their family’s, but no one intervened in a way that helped them make better decisions. Schools, social services, councils, police, health services, community groups and the list goes on and on. So many people notice when a child’s behaviour starts to go in the wrong direction but for lots of reasons we keep leaving it too late before getting the help to where it’s most needed.
Parenting orders are just one tool of many, and I’m going through this meticulously. I don’t want any stone unturned, I don’t want a single barrier to helping a kid early enough that they can chose a better path before it’s too late.
I expect many of you can name someone in your life that helped you make better decisions at key moments when you were growing up. I can. If there are youngsters out there without those adults in their lives then we need to find people who can, and quick, because no-one’s potential should ever be written off.