‘There ain’t a miracle cure’

Louise Casey has a cold. She is bunged up and has spent the past
few days in bed. Despite this, her passion and enthusiasm for what
the government is doing to tackle antisocial behaviour is

Casey started her job as director of the government’s antisocial
behaviour unit when it was established in January 2003. Two months
later the government published its Antisocial Behaviour Bill, which
received royal assent in November. The act’s first laws came into
effect at the start of this year and different sections of the act
roll out during the year.

The antisocial behaviour unit is part of the Home Office, an
imposing cream and tinted-glass building opposite St James’s Park
tube station in London. The section of the building in which the
unit is based is not unlike the set of the BBC television comedy
The Office (although this is where the comparison ends –
Casey’s personality, fortunately, bears no resemblance to David
Brent’s). Rows of cluttered desks stretch across the open-plan
space, with staff quietly tapping away at their computers. A few
give our photographer quizzical looks and Casey reassures them:
“It’s okay, it’s Community Care not The Sun. We
like them.”

Someone pipes up that the unit sometimes likes The Sun too
and Casey laughs. Green posters advertising the unit’s slogan,
“Tackling Antisocial Behaviour”, adorn every wall.

Casey oversees everything from her glass-fronted office in one
corner. Inside, dry-cleaning hangs by the door and a cabinet
displays a shelf full of hats: three baseball caps, bearing the
legends “Baltimore”, “Believe” and “NYPD”, plus a British police
constable’s helmet. A small snow-shaker containing a nun in a black
habit sits on another shelf. On Casey’s desk are photographs of
smiling children and a plastic toy of Sulley, the friendly monster
from the Disney cartoon Monsters, Inc.

It feels like Casey and her team set up camp at the Home Office a
lot longer than 13 months ago. So what motivated her to take the
job? She says she was enormously flattered to be asked to make a
difference: “If what you are about is social justice and making the
world slightly better, this is an amazing opportunity.”

Casey was not deterred by the unit’s tough agenda, which some in
social care regard as controversial. She became used to hitting the
headlines when she was head of the Office of the Deputy Prime
Minister’s rough sleepers unit.

She was given the task of reducing the number of rough sleepers in
England and Wales by two-thirds in three years. When the government
announced that the unit had met this target on schedule debate
raged among the homelessness sector about the methods used to
achieve it.

She doesn’t underestimate “what a huge job” the antisocial
behaviour unit faces. For her first nine months Casey visited
communities in towns and cities to hear people’s experiences of
antisocial behaviour. She would “hop out of the car or get off the
bus” and walk into newsagents and shopping parades to ask people
their views. Her direct approach was appreciated: “I genuinely
believe that when people know you are on their side and the
government is behind them they see they can make a difference for

Casey says she was honest with the public and professionals about
what the government and her unit could do to stop antisocial
behaviour in their area. “There ain’t a miracle cure,” she says.
“We haven’t got the attitude that it’s going to be OK

One of the most refreshing parts of the job for Casey is not having
to persuade professionals – and the public – that stopping
antisocial behaviour is important. This compares starkly with her
work at the rough sleepers unit where people had to be convinced to
prioritise tackling homelessness.

One of the most hotly debated changes the Antisocial Behaviour Act
introduces is the extension of parenting orders to include an
element of residential training. From 27 February, courts can force
parents to attend a residential parenting course. Critics argue
that this simply punishes the family further by removing the main
carer when what they need is more support.

Casey defends the action: “For me it’s all about early intervention
on the enforcement front so you can try to help people as soon as
humanly possible.”

So who will operate these residential courses and from where? Casey
says the government is open to suggestions on who should run them,
although she recognises the voluntary sector has some

On the issue of funding for these programmes, Casey says social
services could put their hands in their pockets because the courses
may be a “tremendously cost-effective” way to achieve change with
families quickly. The government is already in talks with the Youth
Justice Board about running a pilot residential parenting course,
funded by part of the £1.5m it allocated the board last

Another element of the bill that was heavily criticised initially
was the power to disperse groups of young people. Under the act the
wording was changed so that it was not age-specific, although the
reality of the situation could be that it still affects younger
rather than older people. But this kind of power could risk
criminalising people just for being in groups. And where is the
line drawn between antisocial behaviour and hanging out with
friends? Casey admits it is a tough call to make, but insists the
dispersal power is necessary and in response to public

A large group of young people outside a shop are by their very
nature threatening and “would even stop a bolshie person like me
going out to buy a pint of milk”, she says. But don’t young people
need more activities to keep them off the streets? “Anyone who says
to me all they really need is a youth club is bonkers,” she says.
“If the youth club was the most fab place to be then perhaps they’d
already be in it.”

Casey sees no conflict between the new powers in the Antisocial
Behaviour Act and the government’s aims in the children’s green
paper Every Child Matters. In fact, she argues, they share the
common goal of wanting to improve opportunities for young people,
their families and communities. “Why should kids have to grow up in
a society where antisocial behaviour is tolerated and not tackled?”
she says.

Apart from the Home Office’s air-conditioning, Casey says the worst
thing about her job is dealing with people who are in a position to
do something about antisocial behaviour but who fail to do so. The
best thing, she says, is hearing from those individuals who do act
on their responsibility: “These people inspire me and spur me on to
do my bit to back them.”

Training days

In October 2003 the government launched the Together campaign
for the public and practitioners who deal with antisocial behaviour
issues. It is running a series of best practice days in England and

  • Birmingham, 3 March
  • Brighton, 4 March
  • London, 9 March
  • Norwich, 10 March
  • Leeds, 17 March
  • Nottingham, 18 March
  • Sunderland, 23 March
  • Manchester, 25 March
  • Cardiff, 30 March
  • Bristol, 31 March

To reserve a place telephone 08453 000636.

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