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Violence prevention, health promotion: a public health approach to tackling youth violence

A teenage boy and a teenage girl stand in a graffiti-covered underpass. He shows her something on his phone.

The Dawes Unit was a specialist unit within Catch22 that addressed the harms caused by gangs and youth violence, bringing together research, policy and practice. The service produced a range of research, which addresses the problems caused by gangs and explores how best to prevent gang involvement and support those looking to exit. This publication is part of that output.

The publication of Ending Gang and Youth Violence: A Cross- Government Report in 2011 heralded a change of policy direction. Unlike traditional approaches to tackling gang and youth violence, which placed responsibility within the hands of the Home Office and the criminal justice community, the Government’s report recognised gang and youth violence as a public health issue. This report is designed to help us understand emerging practice and to inform the design of future services and public health funding.

A public health approach holds a number of benefits. For example, taking a more holistic approach to the planning and delivery of services enables agencies to work together more effectively and improve the quality of support young people receive. Success in reducing the number of incidences of violence can also help to reduce the costs to the NHS, which is currently estimated at £2.9 billion per year.

The Ending Gang and Youth Violence report emphasised the role of the new public health system and local health and wellbeing boards, established under the Coalition Government’s Health and Social Care Act 2012, in tackling gang and youth violence. These reforms aim to localise public health and allow communities to use public health funding to tackle the issues that most affect them. The health and wellbeing boards are central to achieving these aims. Having come into effect in April 2013, they provide a local forum where leaders from the health and care system can work together to improve the health and wellbeing of their community – including through crime prevention.

Catch22’s Dawes Unit welcomes the public health approach to tackling gang and youth violence and the opportunities it presents in developing resilience, reducing risk and supporting exit. Focusing on the 33 areas identified in the Ending Gang and Youth Violence report, MHP Health was commissioned to conduct research exploring the extent to which health and wellbeing boards are considering gang and youth violence as a public health issue and making it a priority to tackle. These 33 areas were chosen because they have been identified by the Government as requiring support with gangs and youth violence, indicating that they are areas in which a public health approach is likely to have the most significant impact.