Wednesday, 25 October 2006

Young people and anti-social behaviour again: against structure Suddenly it's yoof crime and violence again. The youth justice system, as if we didn't know it, is 'in crisis.' Elsewhere in government there is a creative and positive approach to issues to do with arson and young people. Never thought about it much? Nor me, in spite of a clear recollection of the power of Peter Shaffer's Equus which I saw back in the seventies... According to this press release, children and young people on the lowest incomes are sixteen times more likely to die in a house fire and 31 times more likely to suffer from an arson attack. So one hopes the DCLG's proactive initiative, acknowledging the link between youth crime and arson, has a chance of making a difference. And while I'm writing this, having been unable to get there, ippr are having a gig at the House of Commons to pump some momentum into youth policy, launching their report Freedom’s orphans: raising youth in a changing world. The press release unpromisingly introduces the word ‘paedophobia’ in its title (which helps explain why I missed it first time round) but we learn that 'British adults are less likely than those in other European countries to intervene to stop teenagers committing anti social behaviour.' Right, we're on familiar territory. The inclination to intervene and the fear of retaliation were the key themes of the seminar I organised back in January which sparked the chapters by Jacqueline Barnes and Liz Richardson in Respect in the neighbourhood, which will be published next month. The book is really about informal social control at local level. There have been a few surveys (including I recall this one by a certain security company, with slightly unconvincing methodology) but we can expect the ippr work to be authoritative. The press release offers enticing sample statistics about readiness to intervene. I hope when I see the report I'll find some exploration of the possibility that what young people themselves tend to fear most on the streets is not adults, it's other young people. It seems important, and overdue, for someone influential to at last come out and show clearly that there are social shifts to explain changes in the relationships between young people and those around them, for which young people are not necessarily to blame. But had I been there, I might have raised a point, which was put to me most clearly by our publisher Geoffrey Mann (who's been working in this field far longer than I and long enough to remember Equus I'm sure), to ask who is challenging the policy insistence on structured activities? Not ippr: their report claims 'that participation in structured youth activities is better for young people than unstructured youth clubs,' and recommends 'that every secondary school pupil (from 11-16 years old) should participate in at least two hours a week of structured and purposeful extracurricular activities.' Most youth workers and others providing various types of informal education are not against structured activities, far from it. It's...

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