When a child hits out, simply hitting back at them does not change their behaviour. Criticism and hostility lead to condemnation and anger.

Only by seeking to understand their actions can you begin to address what lies behind them. This logic applies as much as ever in the wake of the worst rioting across England in decades.

Like many organisations that work with children from disadvantaged backgrounds we have been surprised by the scale and nature of this month's unrest. To see children who will be back in primary school next month taking part in these riots is a stark reminder of the problems our society faces.

We clearly do not condone such destructive and shocking activity. But as shattered communities begin to rebuild, it is vital that we look closely at underlying issues. Only by seeking to understand what has happened can we begin to tackle the root causes and prevent them from playing out again.

Areas that saw some of the worst rioting face big cuts

Social and economic contexts should not be overlooked. Youth unemployment has hit record highs over the past year. Latest official figures show that 917,000, or one in five, young people aged 16-25 are unemployed. Within that group, over a third of 16-and-17-year-old school leavers don't have jobs. More than 140,000 - or seven per cent - of all 16-to-18-year-olds are not in any form of education, employment or training.

Funding for youth services has been cut drastically. Local authority spending on services for children and young people has been slashed by almost a quarter in real terms.

One cannot ignore the fact that areas that saw some of the worst rioting, such as Haringey or Birmingham, are subject to cuts of up to 25 percent over the next two years. And not only are local authorities cutting support for those who are not in education, employment or training, they are also cutting services for youth crime prevention.

Benefit changes will hit some of the most vulnerable households

While young people in this country face a tough future and a reduction in services to help them, the abolition of the Educational Maintenance Allowance and the Future Jobs Fund threaten to compound the situation.

Welfare support is also being reduced for a large number of children and families, undermining their basic living incomes. These changes to the benefit system are going to hit some of the poorest and most vulnerable households in the country at a time when they are already struggling.

Given the raw disregard for authority that was on display on the streets this week it is easy to condemn young people. But if we are going to find solutions and prevent further disturbances, we must listen to their views rather than shout them down.

Strengthen communities by involving children and young people

Many children tell us that they feel disempowered. They feel that decisions are taken without their involvement. This needs to change.

In order to embed adult responsibilities into the lives of children, schools, youth services and local authorities need to make sure young people are active participants in the decisions that affect their lives. They are then more likely to have a sense of ownership and to want to see their neighbourhoods prosper as thriving communities.

While it is important that those children and young people who have broken the law face the consequences for their actions, it is equally important that effective youth support and prevention services are in place.

Intergenerational projects engage young people, face cuts

Our experience shows that projects working across generational boundaries and services that reach out to disaffected teenagers have a vital role to play in engaging young people and addressing community conflict.

Community-based intergenerational work brings communities together to deal with conflict and harmful behaviour. We have clear evidence that this approach reduces fear and encourages young people to understand the impact of their actions and take responsibility for them.

Yet for councils who are having to radically restructure to focus on core statutory duties these are often the first projects to be cut.

Children are an asset within our communities

Now is the time to keep these projects open. Local authorities must be encouraged and supported to continue to invest in youth projects that work across generational boundaries. Providing crucial services that bring young people and adults together can in the future make the greatest difference to community cohesion.

Through effective engagement the best youth work also sets clear boundaries and encourages children to take responsibility. Critically, it sees children as an asset within our communities. This is the approach that is needed now and in the future, rather than resorting to an endless blame game.

By Enver Solomon, Policy Director at The Children’s Society

By Enver Solomon - Policy Director
Enver Solomon
- Policy team

Comments

couldn't agree more - excellent response!
I think that sometimes we make things a little more difficult than what they need to be. Getting back to basics and teaching children that they are not entitled to anything unless they work hard for it is the answer. They also need to learn the simple theory of cause and effect, action/reaction before any kind of change will take place.
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