In a debate on youth violence last week I raised with the Minister the need for a public health approach to tackling the issue – this term is bandied around quite a bit by people who use it to mean lots of different things but its become particularly notable in the UK thanks to the brilliant work done by the Violence Reduction Unit in Scotland.
The VRU is clear – the only way that violence in communities can be solved, is through a long-term, whole-system approach in which all agencies, departments and perhaps most importantly, community organisations that come into contact with children recognise the deep and lasting impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences.
For the police, that absolutely means they must adopt a trauma-informed approach, which they are already starting to do in parts of the country. And it means enforcing legislation as and when it is necessary to do so. Sometimes the criminal justice response is necessary but it is not possible to arrest our way out of the violence that has gripped the country.
The Offensive Weapons Bill as currently constituted merely puts restrictions on the sale and ownership of some dangerous weapons. This is of course important, but the decimation of funding for youth services and all kinds of early intervention measures has really diminished capacity for preventing crime occurring in the first place. Just like dealing with physical health contagion, given resources and political will we can treat the causes of violence and put it into remission.
The adoption of a public health approach in Scotland has seen the murder rate in Glasgow drop dramatically over the last 13 years. We have seen from the evidence that it works, and saves lives – now the Government has acknowledged this, it’s time for their words to be turned into action.