Addressing youth violence is not a one size fits all

Addressing youth violence is not a one size fits all

Youth violence is frequently treated as a question. The answer given is, unfortunately, often highly simplified and comes in the form of headline-friendly policies: more police powers, greater numbers on patrol, large investments into civil society.

And while these responses are sometimes steps in the right direction and can support positive change for young people, what is abundantly clear is that the answer to youth violence is emphatically not a single intervention, organisation or idea.

The reason why is, thankfully, quite simple itself. Young people have incredibly diverse and complex experiences. It is no more possible to respond to all their needs with a single programme or intervention, then it is to make a pair of shoes that can fit everyone.

Young people are complicated. ‘Young children show positive biases to learn types of information readily and early in life’[1] before environment is even a factor, and then go on to have wildly varying experiences growing up that can affect how they are able to take on information and develop.

Consider, for example, that social class has been shown to have a greater effect on educational attainment than even parenting. If we then add mental health, previous interactions with the justice system, nutrition, peer-relationships, past trauma and structural violence – the picture gets considerably more complex.

It stands to reason then that we can’t ever simply assume that the shoe will fit. One size does not fit all. Instead, we have to offer meaningful, varied opportunities for young people to engage.  

StreetDoctors works with hundreds of organisations, some large, some small. And while this approach is not always simple or fast (indeed, partnerships can be the total opposite) the reality is that our partners represent a diversity of community, knowledge and approach. This helps us find the young people who can benefit most from being trained as lifesavers in their communities. We would simply not be able to do this without them.

And beyond that, StreetDoctors is a single part of an international mosaic of organisations that is working to understand and respond to the question of violence.  This group encompasses all sectors (public, private and non-profit), and a vast and under-recognised grassroots effort often established for and by local communities themselves.

There are huge variations in types of practice, the intensity of intervention and even the young people that are generally considered the audience for this group.

All of this is as it should be, because the shoe only truly fits if we consider the wearer, the terrain they are crossing and the confidence with which they put one foot in front of the other.

StreetDoctors is proud to be one component of a nuanced, thoughtful and growing response to the evolving challenge presented by youth violence. We are committed to adding our own particular expertise to the discussion so that we can collectively reach as many young people as possible, and to support organisations that bring different things to the table too.

In this way, society can respond to youth violence by getting beyond policy and statistics, to instead consider the young individuals we are all working with and how we tailor their world to help them grow up violence free.

John Valentine, Partnership Manager, StreetDoctors

[1] How People Learn: Brain, Mind, Experience, and School: Expanded Edition (2000)