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Neighbourhood Relational Change, Isolation and Youth Criminality
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Depending on their dynamics, neighbourhoods may serve to contain or exacerbate youth violence. This book uses fascinating ethnographic and interview data to explore the disappearance of localised relationships in a South London housing estate. Through a comparative analysis of the experiences of different generations, James Alexander considers the impact of both wider socio-economic developments, and the gradual move from neighbourly to professional support for young people.

As well as evaluating the effectiveness of youth work programmes, he considers how the actions of neighbours and the decisions of policymakers influence how supported young people feel, and consequently, their vulnerability to criminal influences.

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This chapter explores the recent developments in how young people at risk of exposure to serious youth violence are supported. Initially, the chapter takes a broad view, exploring how a public health approach has increased local and regional governments’ focus on some of the underlying causes of youth violence, such as ACEs, school exclusions and unemployment. Next, this discussion will consider how, after the Taylor Review (2016), the youth justice sector has moved to a child first approach, focusing on the young person’s welfare and developmental needs as a way to prevent offending, rather than the offence committed. From here, the chapter outlines how an awareness of contextual safeguarding has shifted the conversation about professionals’ statutory safeguarding duties from the home to extra familial harm such as serious youth violence and county lines. The chapter will then consider whether any of these developments have made a difference on the estate, with an appraisal of the limitations that contextual safeguarding responses such as relocating young people to safer areas and the focus on a case management approach of supporting individual young people, rather than addressing the underlying issues that persist in neighbourhoods themselves. Finally, it will explore how activities run by local people have adapted to address the needs of young people, including an increased appetite to embed trauma support within general youth activities.

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This chapter synthesizes what has been discussed throughout the book, and shows that although there have been many developments in the way concerns about youth safety are addressed. The public health approach has seen a greater focus on some of the underlying causes of youth violence, Yet some other risk factors remain. Too many young people are still growing up oppressed, in deprivation and subject to racism, whether this be as a result of over policing or through going to failing schools. The chapter concludes that unless the structural oppression is addressed, young people will always find themselves at risk of exposure to violence.

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This chapter considers the street culture that evolved on the estate between 2011 and 2020 through discussing the drill music videos produced by those hanging out locally. Drawing artists’ and others in the drill scene’s accounts the chapter considers how the marketing and revenue implications of the attention economy have caught young people in a dynamic where violent online personas influence their offline lives. The chapter shows how young people juggle portraying attention grabbing performative bravado, maintaining a sense of authenticity and the less violent and less clickable elements of their lives. Those who built up a followership by portraying a violent persona needed to keep up this image to maintain their popularity. Some whose violent lyrics express truer to life experiences were usually involved in street level dealing, and the content of their tracks became less explicitly violent as and when they progressed out of street-level drug markets. However, many of those featured in the videos, even those depicting particularly violent personas, were not perpetrators of serious violence. Despite these dynamics, drill videos are often used by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service as evidence of criminal characters, a move that has been criticized for criminalizing artistic expressions of young Black men.

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This chapter reflects on how the young people’s culture evolved after the commissioning of professional interventions. The text draws on ethnographic data from 2011 to 2016 and interview data with young people reflecting on their experiences during this period. The chapter charts the development and entrenchment of a violent and criminogenic street culture, where class A drug dealing and knife carrying became commonplace. The chapter considers the interplay between where the young people hang out and the broader developments that saw them move from primarily selling cannabis to crack and heroin dealing. This increased the risk of violence, leading to a culture where almost everyone felt they needed to carry a knife for their protection. The chapter shows how the loss of informal supervision left young people devoid of adult input and contributed to the development of an increasingly criminal and violent street culture where weapons use and predatory sexual activity is taken for granted. The chapter concludes by reflecting on how the failure to find a hybrid support system where professionals and residents worked alongside each other to support the young people ultimately left those whom both groups wanted to help more vulnerable and at increased risk of exposure to serious youth violence.

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This chapter draws on young people’s experiences to discuss the impacts of local relational and social dynamics, alongside developments within the youth criminal space. It will shed light on why the current young people’s social environment is often more violent with weapons carrying now pervasive and why they are more vulnerable now than those growing up ten years ago. Here there will be a consideration of how despite the narrative of gang violence, most serious youth violence involves young people who are not gang affiliated, and serious youth violence should not be considered simply a ‘gang’ issue.

The analysis will discuss how local drug market saturation and the emergence of county lines means that young people are at increased risk of child criminal exploitation. Those who are exploited are exposed to physical violence, threats and humiliation resulting in more young people becoming victims of violence perpetrated by adults.

The chapter concludes by looking at how the experiences of a new emerging group is leading to them showing signs of desensitization associated with long-term exposure to violence. This has resulted in more young people carrying weapons, inter-friendship group violence and a lowering of the threshold of when a weapons should be used. As such the environment that young people grow up in today appears less safe than ten years ago.

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This chapter introduces the geographical area where the research takes place before identifying to the key protagonists who will drive the narrative forward. This will include accounts of the social issues of the area, the racial tensions that have persisted on the estate and the demographic changes that have meant that the estate character of the estate is always transforming. Within this discussion will be accounts of past resident-led community action and the resident networks, which made addressing the local need in an informal way possible. The chapter moves on and uses demographic data to show how many inner city neighbourhoods are in a constant state of flux, with high churn rates often resulting in changes in the ethnic makeup of the estate. The chapter will then consider how these changes led to racial tensions between the older generations, which, for example, led to two resident-led holiday play schemes running on the estate in the 1990s. This will be contrasted with a discussion of the multicultural and hybrid cultures of the young people today where ethnic differences only really joked about, with very little peer antagonisms based around ethnicity.

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This chapter explores the debates around coproduction and resident empowerment and considers whether the local authority’ cooperative approach, as a response to the austerity budget and the Localism Act, actually led to greater local participation. This will be done through exploring how the council used participatory decision-making processes to replace resident led to youth support with commissioned professional interventions to rising rates of local youth crime. The chapter goes on to include a discussion on the differences in the resident and the local authority’s responses to the murders of two young people, set against the wider policy and social context of youth violence emerging as a major policy concern and the establishment of a specialist department within the council who were responsible for developing a strategy for addressing the rise in youth violence. A key focus of the chapter is the struggles between the residents who have stayed active and the council-funded professionals on the estate. It documents how those with council backing assumed a superior position on the estate and how, within a short period of time, this status meant that their habitus was recognized by others on the estate as most appropriate.

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This chapter explores the response from the local authority and the residents to the increased criminal and violent behaviour of the young people and shows how there was an increasing enforcement-led approach to addressing youth violence, which locally was seen through a US-inspired joint police and local authority initiative called Operation Shield. Observational and interview data is used to describe the gang call-in process and assess the young people’s and wider neighbourhood’s view of its effectiveness. This supported by a discussion of the applicability of US-initiated interventions within the UK context. This approach will be contrasted with the influence that the few individuals who still tried to support the young people had when interacting directly with the young people without being part of any wider informal network. In so doing, the chapter will show how individual acts of support have limited effectiveness in shaping the actions of young people.

The chapter shows how the drive to provide more effective support through professional interventions increased the social space conducive for a youth street culture to develop. As such, the chapter will explore the effectiveness of relational and transactional support in providing localized social control and seeks to explore the potential role of more informal community guardianship approaches given the heightened concerns around contextual safeguarding, as well as wider neighbourhood risks levels.

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This chapter outlines the main themes of the book and the related policy debates and data trends. The impact of neighbourhood deprivation on local relationships and street crime are introduced along with the initiatives featured in the research to address such issues. These include developments in targeted youth support, trauma-informed practice and the coproduction of local services. The chapter will give a summary of leading theoretical standpoints within studies relating to youth at risk and urban crime, the control of space, and coproduction and professionalism alongside outlining the Bourdieusian framework used throughout the book. The chapter then gives an overview of the developments in national and local interventions aimed at tackling knife crime.

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