No Young Person is an Island: Why Youth Violence isn’t a One Sector Issue

July 28th, 2020

Redthread’s CEO, John Poyton, and Communications and Policy Manager, Eleanor Riley, share their reflections on the ‘teachable moment’ and the importance of collaboration in light of the recent Youth Violence Commission Report

At Redthread, our work revolves around the idea of a ‘teachable moment’ – one that happens in the immediate aftermath of a violence-related hospital visit. Away from their usual routine and environment, a young person is often in a space where they are open to receiving help, to begin moving forward towards a healthier, safer and happier life.

The impact of the teachable moment can be seen across a young person’s life, an acute intervention in hospital can send ripples across entire lives, families, peer groups and communities. But just as the teachable moment can have a wide-ranging impact, the causes of a trip to hospital, and of youth violence incidents in general, are just as broad, and the young people we support face a range of issues. A Redthread Youth Worker might liaise with a young person’s school or college to prevent a permanent exclusion; be in touch with CAMHS to discuss therapy or be speaking to their social worker about moving to an area that is safer for them – often they will need to do all three. No young person is an island and the support they need is not limited to one area of their life. From the teachable moment forward, our youth workers mobilise the professional network around this young person.

Our success also hinges on our relationships with doctors and nurses and the wider NHS. We only get the opportunity for the timely teachable moment because of their willingness to invite us into their hospital departments. The mutual respect between our teams and medical teams at ground level, and the common approach we share to meet young people where they are and without judgement, means we can work together as trusted colleagues. These teachable moment interventions in health settings are beginning to be recognised and are expanding across the country. This is why existing and emerging hospital-based violence intervention programmes are growing the HIVE (Hospital Interrupting Violence Exchange) Network. While our initial services began with a link forged at a professional to professional level, the past few years have seen a shift towards commissioner recognition and adoption of the teachable moment and hospital-based youth work. Cross-sector work, and commissioning, is crucial.

We’re not the only people working in this way; other schemes see similar successes by rethinking what sort of support is possible in certain places. The Divert programme for instance, places ‘custody coaches’ in police stations in London. Since 2018 they’ve worked with over 800 people and are set to expand to South Yorkshire, Thames Valley and Lancashire in 2020. Conversations between a young person who’s been arrested, and a coach are confidential. The coaches are not police, and the young person can be open about what they need and their situation without fear of worsening their situation. Liaison and Diversion programmes rethink criminal justice spaces too, placing forensic mental health practitioners in courts and police stations to screen for vulnerabilities and mental health issues that people might need additional support with.

The potential of other health innovations, like social prescribing for instance, haven’t been fully explored with young people. Social prescribing is a non-clinical intervention prescribed by a health professional. Often a young person presenting with an injury needs a youth work intervention, social prescribing could be the lever to make this happen.

All these examples are crucial parts of a public health approach – an often-heralded solution to youth violence. There’s an evidence base for this way of working, and we’ve made huge progress in recent years – commissioners and politicians now understand the approach and are putting it into practice. We have taken a crucial step in the right direction with the establishment of regional Violence Reduction Units, but implementation and ongoing success will not be easy or without complications.

Putting a public health approach into action takes time and careful planning. That is why we welcome the calls in this report for longevity of funding commitment and the accompanying scrutiny and oversight of the work of the newly established regional Violence Reduction Units. But more than anything, the success of a public health approach needs us all to work together and recognise the important role we all play. All young people deserve to lead healthy, safe and happy lives and no one sector can be solely responsible for all three of these elements – none of us can be islands anymore.


John Poyton is Chief Executive of Redthread, and Eleanor Riley is Communications and Policy Manager.

The Youth Violence Commission Report can be found here.

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