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Violence Reduction Units and Family Hubs – an opportunity for joint working
MV’s Ed Stroud reflects on how Violence Reduction Units and Family Hubs can collaborate to create ‘end to end’ support for young people.
COVID-19 has demonstrated the ability of an epidemic to move rapidly between people who come into contact with one another. It would be easy to think that there is little similarity with trends in violence, however, researchers have found that the two behave similarly. Gary Slutkin, an American epidemiologist observed this first hand. Having spent a decade working to contain the spread of infectious diseases Slutkin started to map gun crime in Chicago. As he did so he realised that the two behaved in a comparable way. He says:
The epidemic curves are the same, the clustering. In fact, one event leads to another, which is diagnostic of a contagious process. Flu causes more flu, colds cause more colds, and violence causes more violence.
Struck by this insight, he founded the organisation Cure Violence and started to advocate for a public health approach to reducing violence. In short, he argues that the same techniques the World Health Organisation use to contain epidemics can be used to prevent the spread of violence. His approach has two main elements: interrupt transmissions and change group norms.
In the context of a medical epidemic interrupting transmission might mean encouraging someone to wash their hands more frequently. Changing group norms means modifying the social behaviours responsible for the spread of the disease, e.g. for a sexually transmitted diseases this could involve promoting wearing condoms.
When working to reduce violence Slutkin found that you could follow the same two steps. For Cure Violence, interrupting transmissions means using Violence Interrupters, people based in the communities in which the violence is most prevalent. This allows them to respond when a violent attack takes place, convincing friends and loved ones not to retaliate. The Interrupter can also work more pre-emptively, working to defuse a situation between two individuals or groups.
To change group norms, Cure Violence uses outreach workers to change peoples’ attitudes to violence and address the broader drivers of violence. This might mean providing people with clothes for interviews, or connecting them with employment opportunities, addiction programmes, counselling, or education. Building a relationship with the young people in the area, these outreach workers start to build trust.
The results of Cure Violence’s work is impressive, an independent evaluation found that there were 40% less shootings in the neighbourhoods they work in (rising to over 70% in specific localities). Significantly, it’s not just in Chicago that a public health approach has been successful. Much has been written about Glasgow and subsequently Scotland’s adoption of this approach. Since its adoption Scotland saw cases of handling an offensive weapon fall by 69% and homicides fall by half. Scotland’s approach has a number of similarities with Cure Violence’s work, especially its focus on addressing the social drivers of violence. However, the work in Scotland was driven by the government rather than a charity, which gave Scotland a greater ability to coordinate a cross-governmental response. Police Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) worked across youth services, education and healthcare to develop a holistic approach to violence reduction.
The influence of these kinds of models can be seen in Sadiq Khan establishing a London VRU and the Conservative Manifesto’s call for “new laws [which] will require schools, police, councils and health authorities to work together through Violence Reduction Units to prevent serious crime”.
The role of Family Hubs
Some commentators have raised a concern that there is not enough bandwidth within public services to support the multi-disciplinary working required by VRUs. One solution to this might be to embed VRUs in another Manifesto commitment – the establishment of Family Hubs. These hubs could build on the multi-disciplinary working already established by the Troubled Families Programme without diluting the different focuses of the two initiatives. Family Hubs would give VRUs a place to co-locate teams as well as roots in a particular place, supporting them to build relationships with young people and the families from which serious youth violence springs.
It would also support violence reduction work with children at an earlier age. Community Links, a charity in East London has stressed the need for this. It highlights that although services to prevent violence are available for children aged 16-21, gangs begin grooming children as young as 10. This means that by the time there is a targetted service available to them children are often already embedded within gang and criminal networks.
Embedding Violence Reduction Units in Family Hubs would create ‘end to end’ support throughout childhood to help prevent gang involvement and reduce violence.
For more of Mutual Venture’s thinking on Family Hubs please see Andrew Laird’s article on the ingredients of success for Family Hubs, and Ed Stroud’s article on the importance Family Hubs delivering Trauma Informed services.