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Are knife crime orders the solution to rising levels of violent crime?

FEBRUARY 14, 2020

Tough new laws to tackle knife crime could harm relationships between police and local communities and fail to properly consider the needs of vulnerable groups of young people, children's services leaders have warned.

In its response to the Home Office consultation on knife crime prevention orders (KCPO) guidance, the Association of Directors of Children's Services (ADCS) raised concerns that KCPOs could be imposed on any person aged 12 or over if police suspect they are carrying a knife or against those with a previous knife crime conviction.

In addition, under the new laws, courts could impose curfews, stop people associating with certain people and also restrict movement detailing which parts of the country cannot be visited.

The ADCS response states: "We do not believe KCPOs amount to early intervention and may even serve to exacerbate the strained relationship between the police and some local communities." and warned that it was "unclear" if an equality impact assessment had been undertaken on the policy nor what measures would be put in place to prevent the use of KCPOs increasing disproportionality in the criminal justice system - half of young people in youth custody are from black and minority ethnic (BAME) communities.

The ADCS wants the guidance to include an "unequivocal duty" on organisations applying for orders to make a referral to children's social care if a child is under 18, to avoid more young people being drawn into the justice system.

It also called for guidance to include details of circumstances in which it is deemed appropriate to seek an order without "tangible evidence" of knife carrying.

It also criticised the lack of detail on who will monitor, commission and fund prevention and rehabilitation measures attached to orders, and warned that local authority and youth offending team support has been severely affected by funding cuts.

The guidance currently fails to sufficiently recognise children's status as a child, instead treating them as "mini adults", the response states.

In addition, the ADCS is seeking discussion with the Home Office over the appropriateness of orders being placed on children in care and whether additional safeguards may be required.

The government response to the rising levels of youth violence has been perceived as being inadequate with a cross-party group of MPs calling for police to be based in schools in response to the "social emergency" caused.

In its Serious Youth Violence report, the parliamentary home affairs committee concludes the government's response to youth violence has been "completely inadequate", criticising its focus on developing a "public health" approach to tackling it. It says knife offences have increased by more than 70 per cent in the past five years and highlights a rise of more than a third in the number of under-18s admitted to hospital with knife-related injuries between 2017 and 2018.

This call for police officers and youth workers to be based in schools to help protect pupils from violence is one also put forward by Anne Longfield, the children's commissioner for England and the call is one of six core demands in the report Guess How Much We Love You - a Manifesto for Children - which commissioner Longfield is urging political parties to include in their own upcoming general election manifestos.

It follows a recent recommendation of the cross-party home affairs committee, to respond to the "social emergency" caused by rising levels of youth violence, by basing police in schools.

Longfield is also calling for any incoming government to extend the Troubled Families Programme or an equivalent system of family support.

Last week's short term spending round confirmed the programme would be extended for a year to April 2021, but gave no figures.

The other strands of Longfield's manifesto template are calls for the next government to place a child and adolescent mental health counsellor in every school; adequately fund special educational needs and disabilities including pre-statutory support; open schools during evenings, weekends and holidays, providing "high quality youth support", and establish a cabinet committee for children.

Longfield's report states that "in more and more areas of the country, gangs operate openly in streets and parks, and groom increasingly younger children". 

It adds: "I've been shocked by how frightened children routinely say they are today. 

"They tell me about being chased in the streets, videoed by strangers, frightened to walk to school, avoiding being out after dark. 

"Many of the people and places that used to be available to kids in the past, the fabric of a child's society - from someone to greet you when you got home from school, to welcoming parks and clubs - no longer exist. We must fix this."

Longfield also questions the priorities of government. "The building blocks of a good childhood haven't changed - secure relationships, a decent home and inspiring schools," she states.

"I want politicians to think seriously about whether they are truly prioritising these things for children. I've heard more national political conversation about HS2, water nationalisation and tax cuts - and of course Brexit - than I have about children."

Meanwhile, Carolyne Willow, director of children's rights organisation Article 39, welcomed the manifesto, but said it was "hugely disappointing" that it made no reference to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which sets out the legislative and cultural changes required for every child to be safe, happy, respected and able to thrive.

"If you are looking to fight poverty, to build respectful education, child protection and care systems, to keep children out of the criminal justice system and to ensure positive family support and excellent healthcare, this is the treaty to achieve that," she said.

"We are celebrating 30 years of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Children Act 1989, so this would have been an opportune moment for the Children's Commissioner to implore politicians to honour their legal obligations to children." 

Willow added that Labour and Liberal Democrats have previously pledged to make the convention part of UK law, which showed "serious political commitment to children".

She said she believed that the "language of rights doesn't always appeal to adults in positions of power", but insisted that it "deeply resonates with children who time and time again report feeling unheard, unrecognised and unsupported".


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