As senior project officer for Rainer Brent Tackling Knife Crime Project, I work closely with Brent Council’s youth offending service, being based at its offices. Our aim is to help young people who have used or threatened to use a knife change their attitudes and behaviour.
Most of the young men and women I work with are in their mid-teens, although some are as young as 12. Most young people referred to me are on referral orders or final warnings.
When I start working with a young person, the first thing I do is to make sure they understand the legal consequences of carrying a weapon.
Many are completely unaware of the law and say they just carry a weapon to protect themselves, and don’t intend to actually use it. I make sure they realise they can be arrested and receive up to four years in prison just for carrying.
The next stage is voluntary on their part and focuses on anger management and building self-esteem. Many young people tell me they need to have a knife with them to feel safe when they go out. One young person told me: “When I’m carrying a weapon, I only have the police to worry about. But if I’m not tooled up, I have to worry about everyone else on the road as well.”
We talk about how these young people can avoid being victimised and I tell them about the large numbers of people injured with their own weapon, rather than by someone else’s. Many knife crimes are the result of a young person being egged on by their mates and not wanting to lose respect by backing down, so we discuss how they can resolve conflict and defuse situations.
Most of the work I do is on a one-to-one basis and this intensive support is what makes our service different. But we also do group work – I recently took a group to a stop and search workshop at which a director of public prosecution spoke about the role of the prosecution service in protecting the public.
Working in partnership with other organisations in the community is essential in my job. I attend the youth offending team and secure estate forum, at which all the Yots in London share information on best practice in tackling gang and weapon crime. I also work closely with the police and make sure that the independent trusts that fund the project are kept informed of progress.
It is also important young people are aware I work for an independent voluntary organisation, because it makes a big difference to how much they open up. They often use me as a sounding board, someone they can talk to.
I see young people with low morale, who feel they are only recognised when they are doing something bad. Changing their perception of themselves is crucial if they are going to stop offending.
The problems of gun and knife crime receive a huge amount of attention and everyone has a view on how to solve it. For me there is no simple solution;. I cannot control what young people do. But I can make sure they are informed and are aware that they have choices – and that they are confident enough to make the right ones.
I hope the young people I work with come away from our sessions with the skills and the confidence to defuse situations in a non-violent way. By helping them to choose more positive lives for themselves I am helping to make our community safer.
Angela Francis is senior project worker for the Rainer Brent Tackling Knife Crime Project