Mark my words…

Children’s charities want to influence the debate on youth
crime and ensure young people get a chance to express their views.
They are banking on Mark Luetchford to help achieve this. Alison
Miller spoke to him.

Mark Luetchford, co-ordinator of Shape Children’s Lives
& the Youth Crime Debate, is passionate about strategic
thinking because, he says simply, “it makes a difference to what
you can achieve”.

Luetchford has been something of a mover and shaker in the
voluntary sector “for causes he believes in”. He began his career
in this area in the late 1980s working in international development
for War on Want, and has since worked for a range of campaigning
organisations, including Oxfam where he campaigned for cutting
third world debt and the abolition of anti-personnel mines.

As co-ordinator of Shape, he is using his campaigning and
strategic planning expertise to influence the course of the debate
about youth crime. Shape was launched in July this year, and is a
coalition between Barnardo’s, the Children’s Society,
youth crime charity Nacro, the National Children’s Bureau,
NCH and the NSPCC. Funded by the Rethinking Crime and Punishment
initiative of the Esmée Fairbairn Charitable Trust, it aims to
raise the level of public debate around youth crime by giving clear
information, comment and analysis of the issues, and by giving a
voice to young people.

Luetchford points out that young people are more likely to be
the victims of crime than carry it out, yet the public perception
is of gangs of young people roaming the streets hell bent on

He believes there is an anomaly between the readiness to
sympathise with neglected children and the attitude to them when
they get into trouble. “It’s not surprising that some
families under enormous pressure find it hard to cope and, rather
than labelling them as neighbours from hell, we need to find a way
to help them bring up their children so they are less likely to get
in trouble.”

Crucial, he believes, to changing the way young people are
treated is to change the way they are often portrayed in the media
and perceived by the public. “If we can prove to the public that
young people will stay out of trouble if they are helped instead of
being treated punitively, we are on to a winner,” he says.

“We need to give the politicians a different script, so when
they are lobbied by their constituents who are demanding severe
sanctions against kids hanging around outside their houses, they
have some answers for them.”

Tackling the hard line tabloid press is a taller order, but
Luetchford believes it is important to try. “It is very difficult
to influence the tabloid agenda because they don’t believe
the charitable sector represents anybody apart from liberal
‘do gooders’.” He believes that harnessing the power of
celebrity can be a good way to counter this, and he is looking for
the right celebrity to endorse Shape’s work.

An important strand of that work is giving a voice to young
people, and it has recruited 10 young media representatives who
have contributed to a wide variety of programmes including the
BBC’s Newsround and Panorama and Radio 4’s Today

Luetchford does not see Shape as being in confrontation with the
government, and says that much good work is being carried out at
the Youth Justice Board on alternatives to custody. He also
welcomes the antisocial behaviour unit’s efforts to involve
communities in solving problems locally. However, Shape is
concerned about the emphasis within the Antisocial Behaviour Bill
on “protecting communities from young people” which, it says, is in
danger of demonising them further.

“I see our role as clearing a space where the public policy
debate on youth crime can take place in an informed way,” he says.
“We must engage with politicians who at the moment only hear one
side of the argument. What they don’t hear is the voice of
the young people on the streets.”

– See

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