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'These young people feel they have no stake in our society'

'These young people feel they have no stake in our society'

Chance UK

3 min read Partner content

Gracia McGrath, chief executive of early intervention charity, Chance UK, offers her perspective on the riots that spread throughout England last week

I think the key issue about preventing more riots in the future is about early intervention work with children, whose adult role models are either absent altogether, or present, but not good role models.

Much of the media here are concentrating on the 10 and 11 year olds out on the streets looting. There is no denying that this is, of course, both shocking and alarming.

The sad thing about this, though, is that the media seemed to be seeing those children as somehow more responsible than the adults.

Let me put it in context. If you are 10 or 11 years old, and you go out on the streets not knowing whether or not to join it, and you see adults, some of whom you know (mothers, learning assistants and postmen have been amongst the people arrested so far) setting fire to property, looting and throwing stones at the police, why would you think it was wrong?

When Chance UK starts working with a child most of them do not have a clear idea of right and wrong. We find that many of them have a very grey attitude to right and wrong. For example, they think stealing from people is wrong but stealing from shops is not. In their views shops are insured, they are rich and they are faceless.

The other big issue across the UK is about social exclusion.

Exclusion in its most literal sense can start as early as primary school. Many people are not aware of just how many children are excluded from primary school.

The majority of children at Chance UK already start school at a disadvantage. They have not learned to sit still, concentrate, or share, let alone started learning numbers or to recognise words.

Exclusion from primary school is a huge issue and unless addressed early leads to long term, permanent exclusions that follow them through their whole school life.

Most children who become NEETs (not in education, employment or training) did not wake up at 14 and suddenly decide that school was not for them. They have become increasingly disillusioned throughout their school career.

These are the young people who feel that they have no stake in our society and do not see a future for themselves. They are ripe for the already established gangs to recruit. They see violence as their only way of gaining respect, and believe the only way of making money is through breaking the law.

If these children are worked with early in their primary schools they can be helped to fit in, learn the rules, improve their behaviour and develop achievable aspirations.

That is what we do at Chance UK.

If all this makes me sound like a bleeding heart liberal, there is also the issue of holding children and young people accountable for their actions.

I think custodial sentences, however, are not the answer for those who have committed more minor crimes.

Community sentences are the viable option, they help children understand the damage they have caused to their communities and help them start to be part of the solution.

Restorative justice, where the perpetrator meets with the victim and hears the impact of their crime, has proven to be incredibly effective, leading to a 25-27 per cent drop in repeat offending and an 80-85 per cent satisfaction rate for victims. Most importantly it helps young people take responsibility for their crime.

Throughout recess, ePolitix.com will be focusing on a different policy theme each week. This week we are featuring articles with a focus on localism and the Big Society.

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