The event was chaired by Renuka Jeyarajah-Dent, Deputy CEO of Coram and head of Coram’s Therapeutic Team, who spoke on the importance of Coram’s unique historical perspective in supporting vulnerable children:
Coram has been working with vulnerable children since 1739 and we have learned that children who are the perpetrators and also the victims of crime often feel that they do not belong. Our history has shown us that unfortunately there are no quick fixes and that long-lasting change is complex.
Today is about learning the lessons from the past and innovating our practices so that we can best support children and their families.
A number of speakers participated in the panel discussion, providing an important insight on the theme from their various disciplines. Dr Jasmine Chin, Coram’s Clinical Lead and head of Coram’s creative therapies work, spoke on the need to reframe the perception of knife crime as simply a criminal act and look at it from a mental-health perspective. Jasmine also underlined the importance of looking at the wider context of distress, deprivation and social injustice that affects many victims, perpetrators and their families.
Dr Jeff Mesie, Head of Impact and Evaluation at Coram, discussed the complex picture of contributing factors to knife crime and warned against drawing overly simplistic conclusions. Addressing the current debate around police numbers and the possible link with rising knife crime, Jeff revealed that police numbers had hardly changed in London and concluded that it could not therefore be seen as a compelling factor.
Harriet Gill, Managing Director of Coram Life Education, spoke on the importance of early intervention and children’s capacity to adopt positive behaviours at a very young age. Harriet also discussed how schools can adopt strong ethics and values, modelling positive social norms and discouraging problematic behaviour.
Coram was also delighted to welcome two guest speakers who shared their specialist knowledge on knife crime and adolescent wellbeing. John Poyton is CEO of Redthread, a London-based outreach project that works one-to-one with victims in a number of major trauma hospitals across the country to help break the cycle of violence. John spoke on the effectiveness of intervening while victims are still in A&E and removed from the context that led to the incident. Outreach workers can seize the opportunity of this “teachable moment” to engage with the young person.
Young Coram staff members also shared their perspectives on knife crime with Arash Khosravi noting that young people’s voices were often absent from the debate on knife crime and that greater efforts need to be made to understand the drivers of their behaviour. Jack Mellors spoke of the normalisation of carrying a knife among vulnerable young people who may face social exclusion and lack a healthy support structure, both at home and at school.
Dr Ann Hagell, Research Lead at the Association for Young People’s Health called for an interdisciplinary “public health approach” to knife crime, emphasising the need to take “collective responsibility”. Ann also highlighted the need to engage with young people and consider the problem from their perspective.
The need for both early intervention and a multi-agency response were the over-arching themes that emerged from all the presentations. In her closing remarks, Dr Carol Homden, CEO of Coram, called for a “reflective discourse” around knife crime rather than the “headline-grabbing” that has been seen in the media. Carol added that the panel discussion had shown the value of a “spectrum response” and reiterated the need for a long-term, cross-sector approach to knife crime.
The presentations from the event can be found below: