Southwark Youth Violence Prevention Panel: mental health, wellbeing  and the public health approach

5 March 2019

The third evidence session of the Southwark Youth Violence Panel was dedicated to hearing from young people about their personal mental health and wellbeing experiences and expert witnesses presenting what the public health approach to tackling youth violence looks like in the borough.

The panel first heard from Mifta Chowdhry CEO of Youth Ink, a charity that works with young people to prevent offending and with offenders to ensure that they are effectively rehabilitated and offered proper, practical support so that they do not return to crime. He highlighted the need for ex-service users of the criminal justice system to be involved in co-producing and delivering interventions and policy due to their lived experience that young people can relate to.

He was joined by two Peer Support Navigators and one volunteer, who shared their experiences of the youth justice system and how they became able to make positive changes in their lives.

A key part of two of the boys’ testimony was the role that mental health played in their lives, although they may not have realised it at the time. Both boys spoke about their initial resistance to engaging with mental health services and all three boys had misconceptions about what mental health services actually were. One Peer Support Navigator described how speaking to child and adolescent mental health services he felt “If I’d had this support before, things would have been different”.

This feeling of early intervention in terms of mental health being was echoed by the team from Together for Mental Wellbeing which provides mental health and wellbeing support for the Southwark Anti Violence Unit (SAVU). They also highlighted the need for practitioners to be relatable and representative of the communities they serve to help breakdown stigma of accessing and engaging with these services.

The panel then heard from a representative from Southwark Council’s Public Health team about the ‘public health approach’ to serious youth violence which has had great success elsewhere and the work the council is doing with partners to develop this.

In essence, the public health approach brings together police, the local authority, schools, healthcare providers, working closely with young people and communities to tackle the root causes of violence. Empowering communities to tackle all forms of violence is at the forefront of the approach.

The public health model is underpinned by a strong focus on prevention. Prevention activity can range from universal approaches, such as lessons delivered in school to more targeted and specialist interventions as appropriate.

This model highlights there is no single factor that can explain a persons risk for violence, rather it is the collection and multiplicity of factors at various levels that determines whether someone is at risk for involvement in serious youth violence. It looks at who is affected by violence, how they are affected and the relationship between violence and health inequalities. It uses data and evidence to understand and tackle the root causes of violence and prevent and mitigate its impact in defined populations.

Cllr Jasmine Ali also provided  feedback to the panel about the council’s plan to treat 100 percent of children and young people with a diagnosed mental health condition by 2020 compared to the notational target of 35 percent.

Cllr Evelyn Akoto, cabinet member for community safety and public health said: “We hear a lot of buzzwords when it comes to knife crime and that isn’t what we are looking for here in Southwark.  We want to hone in on what actually works and critically assess the evidence that exists. The powerful testimony from the Peer Support Navigators really brought home to everyone on the panel the need for positive, relatable role models in our communities. Their experiences have highlighted why young people must be central to the formation of policy in areas that disproportionately affect them. ” 

The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday 6th March 2019, between 5.30pm-7.30pm at Southwark Council’s Tooley Street office. The theme for the next meeting will be Role Models, Parents and Carers and all meetings are open to the public. 

Page last updated: 05 March 2019

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