After numerous reports of failing youth offending institutions, the figures from the Howard League’s report on the fall in child arrests in 2016 are incredibly encouraging. It’s so good to hear that we are enabling young people to stay out of the criminal justice system. However, my work with XLP in London drives me to point out that there is still a lot that can be done.
It’s worth bearing in mind that a number of the young people that are going into custody are being sentenced for increasingly violent crimes. Knife crime in particular is up 24 per cent and, according to the Metropolitan Police, this is no longer just gang crime. We see children growing up in a world characterised by fear, where they see crime as the norm. Many do not commit premeditated crime, but do so as a reaction, without thinking through the consequences of their actions simply because they haven’t had to learn to before.
Parents have an important part to play. They need to be real with their young people. They need to teach them consequences. They also need to give them a positive message of their value and worth; to teach them that taking part in crime is not who they are. Parents need to show them that they are called to better things.
The Church can and must do more. XLP and similar organisations are doing all they can to encourage churches to love the young people in their congregations and communities. In a society where so many children are not shown love in their families, churches have the privilege and responsibility to help fill this gap. Young people are not necessarily getting the message that they are valuable, loved, significant and have a part to play. Churches must do more to step out of their buildings and engage with children and young people where they are.
We need a joined-up approach. We want to be a people who are constantly inspiring our young people to be more than they feel they are right now and encouraging them that they can have a good future. XLP wants to help young people reach their own positive decision-making processes. It’s about drawing out who they are and what they can be. This isn’t just down to parents, or the police. This is about a whole-community responsibility shaping young people. As a community, we need to look out for ways we can consistently be encouraging young people to engage in positive behaviour.
These statistics show a positive change, but we must not forget that so much more can be done, and the Church has a responsibility to help as much as anyone.