When I think of young people and violence, my mind often goes to the most tragic situations. And a report launched Monday by the Youth Endowment Fund shows that we’re not wrong to worry about the worst.
Through a nationally representative survey of over 2,000 children living in England and Wales, 14 per cent of teen-aged children told us that they’ve been the victim of violence in the past 12 months. And almost two in five children (39 per cent) said they’d been directly affected by violence, either as a victim or witness. This is as much a part of children’s online lives too; over half of children told us they’d seen violence on social media, with almost a quarter exposed to content that involves other young people carrying or promoting the use of weapons like knives.
These experiences were far more frequent for children who regularly miss school or who are on free school meals, with the proportion of children directly affected by violence as victims or witnesses rising to 55 per cent and 46 per cent respectively among these groups. This figure was as high as 60 per cent for children who have been supported by a social worker.
It’s incredibly important that we understand the victimisation of children. But our survey went a step further, asking children about the ways in which fear of violence is shaping their everyday lives. And what we found was a real and profound impact on children’s education, with 14 per cent telling us that – over the past year – they’d skipped school out of fear of serious violence. This was despite the fact that 83 per cent of children saying that school is a safe place for them, suggesting that journeys into and out of school might be the time when they feel most scared.
When we spoke to our youth advisory board about the report, school and safety around school was one of the issues they identified with most closely. But what should we be doing about it?
There clearly isn’t one single answer to solving the problem of violence in young people’s lives. But at the Youth Endowment Fund, our role is to use our £200 million fund to invest in building the evidence on what might work. Based on research that shows a clear link between presence in school and vulnerability to violence, we’ve partnered with the Education Endowment Foundation to find out how programmes and school policy can keep young people engaged in lessons and away from the streets.
It’ll take us some time with the independent researchers we commission to learn from our investments and produce more evidence. But while we’re generating original research, we’re also working to simplify what we already know from existing evidence, so that school leaders and teachers can put it into practice.
Our YEF Toolkit is a free online resource to help apply evidence in the classroom and corridors. It shows how programmes like social skills training could reduce the number of children getting involved in crime by 32 per cent, while tailored sports programmes have worked really well at reducing aggressive behaviour and promoting good mental health. While less effective at reducing violence, we also found benefits in offering anti-bullying projects and after-school activities.
And, just as importantly, it shows what doesn’t work. We found that prison awareness programmes – which try to scare children away from crime by telling them about what might happen if they end up in custody – actually make them more likely to end up involved in violence. It’s something that all schools should avoid offering.
So while the situation is complex, it isn’t hopeless. By working together with schools, we can make sure that children get support that actually works, at the point that they need it most. By listening to young people, using the evidence and working in partnership, we can bring about change. Together, we can keep children safe from violence and give them richer, happier, safer lives.