Violence in the West Midlands has followed the national trend and has risen consistently for a number of years. It’s led to an increased fear of crime, a rise in the mental and physical injuries suffered by members of our community and many preventable deaths.
The Violence Reduction Unit is a partnership organisation that aims to reduce violent crime across the West Midlands region. It benefits from the expertise of partners in public health, criminal justice, sports, education, and policing in order to take on a collaborative approach towards reducing violence.
Jasmine is the VRU Education Intervention Advisor and Community Navigator- responding to demand and need in relation to violence under 25.
What does a Community Navigator do?
Community Navigators are the VRU’s ‘people on the ground’. It is their job to work with communities, partners and stakeholders to reduce violence. We have seven navigators in total, one in each local authority area. They help co-ordinate the violence reduction effort in local neighbourhoods. They also help introduce new interventions that are designed to prevent and reduce violence.
Part of their role is to help communities access support and address issues that are causing violence. They encourage people to adopt tried and test methods which are proven to reduce violence. They empower communities to become involved in the work of the VRU and develop relationships that lead to joint decision making. The navigators also play a vital role in supporting local voluntary sector organisations with funding and developing opportunities.
Across the West Midlands the VRU has trialled a number of violence prevention initiatives in specific places. The aim is to test what works. These schemes are running in small areas, with populations of around 20,000 people and it is the navigators who are going to be managing these projects on a day to day basis.
What is the Wolverhampton Navigator focusing on?
For more information about the place-based activity and the data and evidence that support the decisions around where the VRU is working, have a look at the Wolverhampton Story Map
In Wolverhampton work is taking place to test innovative approaches to violence prevention and reduction. It is hoped that the pilot will produce evidence that shows how successful some interventions can be. The pilot in Wolverhampton is focused on looked after children and care leavers and was developed in partnership with Wolverhampton City Council, local partners and stakeholders.
Context and Evidence
Wolverhampton has a population of just over 262,000. Around a quarter are aged 0-19. The City of Wolverhampton Council has 586 children and young people in care, and 300 care leavers.
The National Audit Office report ‘Care Leavers Transition to Adulthood’ (2015) notes that a third of care leavers experience homelessness between six and 24 months after leaving care. Other research highlights that over 25% of the adult prison population has been in care and care leavers are four times more likely than the general population to have mental health problems. Research suggests that when looked after children are compared with children in the general population, they tend to have poorer outcomes in a number of areas, such as educational attainment and mental and physical health (Rahilly and Hendry, 2014).
This context and evidence supported the development of a pilot in Wolverhampton, focused on children and young people in care and care leavers, with the aim of:
- Mitigating the risk factors that make violence more likely
- Building on the protective factors
- Ultimately improving outcomes for these young people.
Interventions and Activity
Lots of activity and intervention took place during the pilot period, all to support young people and children in care to ultimately improve opportunities for them:
- Strengthening support for children in care and care leavers.
- Established online webinars designed to keep young people safe and prevent them from getting involved with gangs, exploitation, domestic abuse.
- Training for staff that creates a multi-agency trauma informed network around children in care and care leavers.
- Strengthening the relationship between the police and young people in care.
- Employed mentors to work at the council’s leisure centres – developing the health and wellbeing of young people.
- Funded music groups to improve health and wellbeing.
- Funding a local football club designed for young people in care and care leavers – providing opportunities to participate in a team and engage with sport.
- Establish a peer mentor scheme for young children in care. This involved a care leaver supporting a child in care.
- Online training, in the form of games, for children and young people on topics such as bullying, internet safety, mental health and wellbeing, sexting and safe gaming.
- Access to Kooth (online mental wellbeing community) for Care Leavers up until the age of 25 to address mental wellbeing.
- Young people in care and care leavers report a higher level of wellbeing.
- Young people in care and care leavers report greater engagement with the support they need as a result of the strengthened virtual community.
- Individuals engage with a range of interventions and report increased self-esteem and confidence.
- The establishment of an online safe space that increases engagement in support.
The delivery of the pilot project was significantly interrupted by the lockdown caused by COVID 19. Work to complete the project activity is ongoing, alongside the development of another separate pilot project that will be developed in partnership with Wolverhampton Community Safety Partnerships
School Based Interventions
The West Midlands Violence Reduction Unit works with schools and other educational institutions to support, engage and protect their children and young people. We commission grass roots organisations to deliver interventions that aim to reduce violence in schools. We also deliver a range of training to enhance the knowledge of those who work within education.
During the 2019/20 academic year the VRU engaged with 156 secondary schools. In 96 of those, it put in place a number of evidence based interventions. These were all based on the need within the school. These projects include different levels and types of intervention depending upon the level of risk with the young person.
- One-to-one mentoring with vulnerable young people already involved in serious violence.
- Small group projects targeted at vulnerable young people who are at risk of being drawn into violence.
- Large group work with pupils who are thought to be on the periphery of violence.
- Whole school work aimed at raising awareness of violence and its effects
There was also a range of training delivered to help better equip teachers and parents with the skills needed to address violence and its causes. These included:
- Mental health and mindfulness training which equipped participants with the skills to take care of their own mental health as well as techniques they can use with their students.
- Training to help teachers better identify and understand the exploitation and risks faced by vulnerable girls.
- Training for teachers to help them keep pupils caught up in gangs and violence safe. Contextual Safeguarding is becoming increasingly important to schools.
- Online Safety Workshops which enable primary and secondary schools, teachers and parents to work together to keep young people safe online
- Training which enhances a school’s ability to write bids for funding which can be used to support targeted interventions within their school.