Children 'more at risk' of violence and knife crime following Covid lockdowns, Leeds teacher warns

A Leeds educator has warned of the impact of lockdowns on children at risk of knife crime in the city.

Kauser Jan is an assistant headteacher in Harehills and knife crime educator
Kauser Jan is an assistant headteacher in Harehills and knife crime educator

Kauser Jan, an assistant headteacher in Harehills, fears that young people are more susceptible to being groomed by gangs as they spend more time indoors and online.

The Yorkshire Evening Post’s Saving Lives After Lockdown campaign is shining a light on the impact of knife crime across the city, looking at ways to prevent an upsurge in incidents as restrictions are eased.

Police figures show there were 142 fewer knife crime offences in Leeds in the 12 months to March 2021 compared to the previous year.

The YEP's Saving Lives After Lockdown campaign is highlighting the impact of knife crime on communities across Leeds (Photo: PA Wire/Katie Collins)

But more work is urgently needed to educate young people on the dangers of knife crime as restrictions are lifted, Ms Jan said, with a joint-up approach from teachers, police and local authorities to find solutions.

“It’s gone way beyond knife crime now”, Ms Jan told the YEP.

“We’re not just talking about knives, but weapons - machetes and guns.

“Our children have, over the past year, spent a phenomenal amount of time online. Parents think they are doing their school work. But are they checking? Are they going through their history?

“You have to have a conversation to try and find out about what's going on.”

Detective Chief Inspector Fiona Gaffney, who leads West Yorkshire Police’s Protective Services Crime Unit, echoed that parents were key in recognising the signs of Child Criminal Exploitation (CCE).

She said children exploited by gangs may be pressured into carrying a knife, or feel they need a weapon to protect them from serious violence between organised crime groups.

Det Chief Insp Gaffney said: “We don’t have quantifiable data to say young people are more at risk [of CCE]. But the risk to young people has changed through the pandemic.

“If individuals aren’t being seen, nurtured and supported - by our schools, by our social care, by seeing police officers out and about - we know that dynamic will change.

“Potentially, we have a reduction of information being passed between partners about individuals, because they are just not being seen as much in their homes.”

Prior to the pandemic, Ms Jan delivered sessions in schools with West Yorkshire Police, a former offender and Sarah Lloyd - who lost her 17-year-old son to knife crime.

Ms Jan said it was important to look at the issue from every angle coming out of lockdown, from educating children on the messages of music such as drill to raising awareness of how gangs can target young people through social media.

Young people need to be ‘at the centre’ of solutions to knife crime

StreetDoctors is a charity that educates young people about how to save a life if someone is stabbed.

Young healthcare volunteers, such as student doctors and nurses, deliver the sessions in schools and through other partners across Leeds.

Like many charities working to divert young people away from violence, StreetDoctors has had to move its resources online while coronavirus restrictions prevent face-to-face teaching.

The charity carried out a survey of young people vulnerable to violence last year and found that more than half had deficits in support during lockdown, leaving them feeling worried and alone.

The charity’s communications and policy officer, Frances Breeveld, said: “The importance of counselling and youth work came up a lot in the answers and policymakers need to focus on making sure that youth work doesn’t get lost.

“It’s been so important to us that we’ve still been able to reach young people. As our report shows, young people are lacking support. They are missing connection with people and a lot of services haven’t been able to go digital.

“Young people need to be at the centre of solutions.”

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