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1026  26 June 2004  

‘Creating Safer Communities’ Conference 


Address by Kathy Evans                                 23 June 2004
Assistant Director/Policy, The Children's Society

There can be no doubt that anti-social behaviour is a real problem right across the country, in  rural, urban and suburban communities – at The Children’s Society we know that, not least because children and young people are the first to tell us, that they experience those problems. They tell us, and have been telling us for years, that they want to feel safer in their communities, that they want intimidation, drugs and bullying on their streets to stop. We are working at grass roots level in a wide range of communities, through the Children’s Fund, through New Deal for Communities, and by facilitating young people’s participation in local partnerships, and so we know how much effort and attention is going into local action to improve the quality of life in the communities experiencing some of the worst problems. We also work with some children and young people who are subject to Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, in particular, although not exclusively, through our work with young offenders.  

As we all know, the approaches being taken to tackling anti-social behaviour vary widely across the country. In some areas there has been a conscious decision not to target the young with the kind of enforcement measures in the Anti-Social Behaviour Act.  Agencies in these areas are instead targeting their efforts on prevention and diversionary activities for children. In some areas the Police and local partnerships are really leading the way, by including children and young people in the solutions to community problems, making clear that children are community members too.  But that is not everywhere. We know, not least from the Home Office’s Review of ASBOs in 2002, that over half of all ASBO’s relate to under 18-year-oldss. Some areas have explicitly decided to target the young.  

Some areas are getting the balance right, and to those I say simply - "We support the approach that you are taking, and the fact that children support you is clear from their involvement and sense of membership of their communities"   Regeneration, the Children’s Fund, and all sorts of investments in children are making a real difference to many children’s sense of safety and belonging in the communities. 

My subject, however, is the impact of ‘Anti-Social Behaviour Measures on Children’.   I want to broaden that out first, to look at the general community context for children today and the impact of the anti-social behaviour agenda as a whole, before looking specifically at the measures that can be employed.  My emphasis will be on the evidence we have gathered about what children and young people think, feel and experience, rather than a more evaluative approach to the outcomes of particular measures.   Others have spoken about outcomes and effectiveness, but I think it is the voice of children and young people, and their perspective on what is going on that can often be lost.  And I’d like you all to try, for the next few minutes, to remember what it felt like to be a child or a teenager, to try to see things through the eyes of children - because that is how we could really start to come to grips with some of the impact. 

I want to start by looking at our language and our communication with children about anti-social behaviour. I want to look at the feelings that so many children are experiencing in their communities, and how anti-social behaviour measures fit into that picture.  So I need to start with a question:

‘What is anti-social behaviour anyway?’ 

The assumption seems to be that it is a phrase that explains itself. The law does not really bother to define it, different local partnerships can create their own definition. The Office of the Deputy Prime Minister reported last year that -

“Although disorder, youth nuisance and anti-social behaviour were often identified as priority themes in Crime and Disorder Strategies, there was a lack of clarity as to what behaviours were being referred to…Any behaviour could be classed as being anti-social depending on a number of factors including the context in which it took place, the location, the tolerance levels of the local community and expectations about the quality of life in an area”

Two years earlier, the Cabinet Office’s Policy Action Team highlighted the vagueness of the term, in their PAT 12 report, and the implications of it for young people:

“There is no single definition of anti-social behaviour….young people are often perceived to be responsible for anti-social behaviour, but they are most at risk of being victims” 

And I’m sure several eyes will be rolling as I raise this question of definition, because it’s been floating around for some time. Many people think this is an anodyne point - that those who experience it, know perfectly well what it is, and that’s what counts.  But children rely on us to teach them, to explain to them the world around them, and the rules we operate by. Children and young people need to know what anti-social behaviour is, because they need to know what they are not meant to do in order to avoid having the measures used against them. And as the Cabinet Office rightly pointed out, the subjectivity of the term is wide open to prejudice against young people. Many children and young people are telling us that they do not understand the term - but they do know that it is targeted towards children.  In fact many children and parents who are already subject to anti-social behaviour measures are telling us that they often don’t understand the processes they are being involved in, or the language we use in anti-social behaviour proceedings.

“I shouldn’t be on an ASBO because I’ve not got any convictions.  I don’t go robbing, fighting, bullying or terrorising. I don’t take drugs or drink on the streets….the only thing I have done wrong is hang around in a group and then I did nothing wrong” (young person awaiting appeal)

You can sense this young person’s bewilderment that he thought he had understood what he was not supposed to do, and his anger at the goalposts being changed.   Perhaps he does have his own ‘obvious’ understanding of what anti-social behaviour is, and is finding it hard to apply it to anything that he has done. 

The use of this vague, subjective terminology with children has very real consequences.  In the absence of a clear definition of the behaviour that is anti-social, children and young people are quickly sensing that it is their very existence and their youth that is considered anti-social.  If they are perceived to be anti-social by others, then that seems to be the defining factor.  

Remember too that although there are young people who have heard about the Anti-Social Behaviour Act, or who have otherwise heard the term, there are many, huge numbers, who still know nothing about it.   One of the key issues is that there was no coherent or explicit communication about the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill with children and young people in the run up to, or indeed during the passage of the Bill.   We can debate among ourselves and with Government whether the actual intention of the Bill was to target children as the problem.  And we can, of course, make localised decisions about what strategies will be adopted.  But many young people were essentially left to work out the meaning for themselves, when they discovered that the Government was passing curfew and dispersal powers and naming and shaming powers.

Young people at one of our Children’s Fund projects in Kent clearly felt targeted and labelled by the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill, saying:

“We know the Bill isn’t just about young people but we are the main group getting punished”

         “It makes all young people look bad”

"It’s like having signs saying ‘No playing ball, No dog poo, No young people’.”

Once they found out about them, the UK Youth Parliament denounced children’s curfew and dispersal powers as discriminatory towards children, and were outraged that the Government's commitment to "consulting and involving children" had evidently disappeared when preparing the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill.   In their 2003 manifesto the Youth Parliament said that:

“...the Bill focuses too heavily on young people as the problem, and does not seek to work with us, but rather reduce our civil liberties”

And in response to so much attention given to the anti-social effect of young people hanging around in groups, they sought to emphasise that

“young people hang around in groups to feel safer”.

The Northern Ireland Children’s Commissioner is applying for judicial review on the issues of the Government’s failure to consult with or communicate to children about the anti-social behaviour measures, saying that if children are old enough to be made subject to an order, they are old enough to be consulted about the laws that created them. And in an England-wide NOP poll of young people aged 10-16, conducted last October -

  • 90% percent believed they should have had their say before any law that restricts their freedom was given the go-ahead.

  • 70% said that Police should not be given powers to move them on if they have not done anything wrong

  • 80% said curfews are not fair because not all young people cause problems

  • Three-fifths (60%) believe curfews will stop them doing things they enjoy

  • 81% say that Police were very important in helping children lead safe and secure lives, and

  • 82% said that children sometimes “hang out on the streets” because there is nowhere else for them to go.

I think those figures show how healthy a sense of fairness children and young people have. They have high levels of respect for the Police, but little comprehension of measures that would seek to punish and restrict them when they have done nothing wrong.    

The very rhetoric - quite apart from the implementation of the anti-social behaviour measures - is sending a message to children that they are at the margins of their communities, often unwanted, readily excluded. An annoyance just waiting to happen. Children’s definitions of anti-social behaviour would include adults’  intolerance of them playing and gathering together when they are not doing any harm to anyone. Unless we include action to tackle those attitudes in our action to address anti-social behaviour, then we will fail to convince children that they are valued members of our communities. Unless we are careful in the ways we implement anti-social behaviour plans, we are at high risk of reinforcing a culture of increasing intolerance and fear of children’s presence in public, wanting and expecting children to be safely out of sight, and certainly out of earshot, preferably on their parents sofa at home.  Signs routinely ban them from their community’s shops, say no ball games, no bicycles, no skateboards or rollerblades, no children in this restaurant.

Research for national PlayDay last August showed how fear and intolerance of children just being outdoors is impacting on children’s normal, healthy play, and their sense that they are allowed out in their community. Of the 2,600 children and young people, aged seven to 16, questioned for the Playday survey two-thirds said they like to play outside daily, mostly to meet friends.   But -

  • Four in five (80%) say they have been told off for playing outdoors

  • Half (50%) say they have been shouted at for playing out.

  • One in four (25%) aged 11-16 were threatened with violence

The research also uncovered examples like these, and I really want you to imagine you are the child hearing and experiencing these decisions from the adults in their community: 

·        Plans to put up a netball hoop on a village green in Oxfordshire that were blocked because residents didn’t want to attract children.  

·        Skateboard park in Cumbria refused planning permission due to residents’ objections- despite a 1,500 signature petition and £100,000 raised through the efforts of local children.  

·        And in the north west, 115 No Ball Games signs put up on one housing estate where four out of five play grounds had also been shut down

Green space accessible to children continues to be sold off, with the number of applications to build on playing fields in 2002/3 being more than double the figure for the previous two years.  

Before we can really understand the effect anti-social measures are having on the children who are subject to them, we must ask ourselves what place and what space we create for all the children in our communities. Perhaps if we included intolerance of children in our definition of anti-social behaviour, the neighbour in West Somerset who got an 8-year-old girl in the PlayDay research stopped from cycling down her own street because her bicycle wheels were squeaky would have been challenged about his intolerant attitude.  Perhaps the 3-year-old boy who had every new ball he had to play with burst by his neighbour each time they went over his wall, would have seen some action taken about the damage to his property, and to protect his right to play in his own garden. 

Children and young people don’t understand our rhetoric, they understand what they see and feel to be going on around them. They hear the unspoken messages, and they hear our own contradictions.  We are scared for the safety of our children if they are out on their own, yet we are scared of them when they gather in the company of friends.  We worry about an obese generation of couch potatoes and computer game addicts, yet we are willing to ban children from playing ball games because the sound is a nuisance.  We want skateboarders off residential streets, but we fear establishing skate-parks that will attract young people.  We want children to learn to make responsible choices, to obey the law, to understand right from wrong, and then we make laws that will see them moved on, split up from their friends and sent home when they are doing nothing wrong, just in case they do. 

No wonder so many children and young people are confused and angry.  We have to make sure we learn from young people’s reactions so far, and sort out our mixed messages before we communicate with the rest of the young population about "anti-social behaviour measures". 

I propose to focus on two main aspects of the anti-social behaviour measures – Anti-Social Behaviour Orders and Naming and Shaming. I recognise of course that there are a wide array of measures available, such as parenting orders, or powers to close Crack Houses, which can also have an impact on children and young people, not to mention the possible impact on children of their parents, neighbours or other adults who cause problems being made subject to ASBOs. These aspects of the impact of anti-social behaviour measures on children undoubtedly warrant exploration, but I’m not aware of such evaluation having been conducted with children and young people.   Curfew and dispersal powers have also, as we know, been introduced in at least two areas of the country, and it is vitally important that both the outcomes of those schemes, and their emotional impact on children are monitored. However they have only been recently introduced and I am certainly not the best person to report on the implementation at this stage.  I will focus on ASBO’s and naming and shaming because these are the measures that the young people we work with have been experiencing at first hand, and are telling us about. 

As I mentioned earlier, the 2002 Home Office Review of ASBOs reported that 58% of ASBOs had been made against under 18’s, three quarters against under 21s.  It is perhaps salutary to recall that when the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act was passed, ASBOs were primarily discussed in debate as being intended for adults, and tenants in particular, building on the pioneering work in Hackney, using injunctions to address the enormous problems caused by a small handful of intimidating residents.  Even the first consultation draft of the HO guidance for implementation emphasised that ASBOs should only be used for young people in exceptional circumstances.

But that was radically changed by the time the final Guidance came out. I say this because, despite their popularity for use on young people, one should query whether ASBOs were really designed with young people in mind.  We should ask whether the rates of breach of ASBOs for young people may be related to the fact that they were not conceived of as a "children’s order" at all. The issues that I have already raised, about language and how to explain anti-social behaviour orders are very real here.   We have doubts, for example, whether many young people are really comprehending that when they sign an "acceptable behaviour contract", they could breach it without breaking the criminal law, or that their whole family may find themselves evicted.  Is this really something that we expect a 10- or 12-year-old to fully take on board, let alone a troubled child?  The same Home Office report highlighted that in around one in ten of the cases they looked into in detail, the young person subject to an ASBO had a learning or other educational difficulty, including one who was deaf and dumb.  What then is the meaning of a written contract to them?  Are there procedures for ASBOs designed with these children in mind, and how are they being made understandable to children?

We are picking up very different approaches to the prevention of ASBOs across the country.  As I’ve said, some areas have committed themselves to prevention as a general approach and are focussing their efforts on preventing ASBOs from being made in the first place, through community based initiatives, through the attention of Youth Inclusion and Support Panels and the use of Acceptable Behaviour Contracts.  However some other areas measure their success by the high number of ASBOs on children.  Some Community and Neighbourhood Wardens have targets for  ASBOs to meet - even before they go out and find out what’s going on and whether that number are needed, or whether they could be effectively prevented.  In one very small village where we work, 17 children were given ASBOs in one week by the new community warden, without any real prior preventative work being done with them.  And in a small village, you can imagine that was quite a substantial proportion of the entire local youth population.  Seeing and hearing that young people are being treated differently in different parts of the country certainly doesn’t help in convincing children that there is any consistency or fairness in how we are using anti-social behaviour measures on them.

Looking at the impact of some of the kinds of conditions that young people are being placed under, we are finding that in some cases ASBOs are having the effect of preventing young people from engaging in exactly the kind of activities and services that would benefit them in improving their behaviour. Indeed with young people, one of key aims must be to get them to expend their energy on something constructive, because anyone who has a child will know that making sure that they are contentedly exhausted by the end of the day is the key to having a peaceful night!   If all we are doing is cooping young people up at home, and frustrating them by isolating them from peer group activities, like sports and youth clubs, then we are effectively building up negative energy with nowhere for it to go. And that’s surely not what we want.

Related to this point are the difficulties young people face in complying with conditions not to associate with longstanding friends, particularly when they live locally.  These are of course understandable conditions when we recognise that peer groups are often the biggest influence on children’s behaviour, and it perhaps only mirrors the kind of discipline that many parents might seek to impose themselves if they feel that their children have fallen into bad company.  However, in making a court order of non-association, potentially punishable by imprisonment, the side effects can be more problematic for the child who really tries to comply than the one who does not.  If, for example, the friend with whom the child cannot associate is playing out in their street, then they are effectively unable to leave their house.  If they share other friends with whom they are permitted to associate, they have to negotiate the problems of ensuring that they don’t happen to make parallel arrangements or movements that would bring them together within the wider group. And whatever the immaturity or wisdom of their choice of friends, the emotional impact on a teenager of being cut off from the people they consider a real friend can be harsh, particularly if they have emotional problems and challenges to work through, as so many of them do.

It should go without saying that many of the children being made subject to  ASBOs do have quite profound personal or family problems that underlie their behaviour. Many young people not only need professional support if they are to change their behaviour to comply with their ASBO, but for many, home is not the safe, happy, supportive environment that might encourage them to be home earlier of an evening, or to take their schooling and behaviour more seriously.  For some of these children, home is precisely the place that they are avoiding by being out on the streets, and all too often, Social Services find it difficult to stretch their resources to provide family support or indeed child protection for teenagers, especially as they near 16.  The powers to create Individual Support Orders, and parenting orders, to run alongside ASBOs were introduced last year in the Criminal Justice Act, in recognition of this major gap in ASBOs for young people. However, we have yet to see how well or how widely they will be used, or what resources will be made available to provide ISO interventions. And at The Children’s Society, we are concerned that this recognition of the need for support comes in the form of more breachable requirements imposed on children and parents, rather than obligations on local services to ensure that families receive the support they need.

Hopefully you will all be aware of The Children’s Society’s core concerns about children in custody.  We have supported the Youth Justice Board in their drive to provide more community options for children, and to encourage the decreased use of custody for children.   Having seen some success in reducing the numbers of children in custody during 2002/3, it was disheartening to see the figures rise back to their record highs at the beginning of this year. And although we do not have the precise numbers of ASBO breaches that are leading to custody, anecdotal evidence coming directly from the secure training centres and prisons appear to indicate that ASBO breaches have contributed to that rise. 

Let us be in no doubt – when a child ends up locked-up for breaching an ASBO then the whole intention of making one has failed.  We know that almost nine out of ten children who go into prison will re-offend when they come out, and so the problems for their communities are only temporarily alleviated while they are away. And the more overcrowded our prisons, the less useful any work done in them with children can be. We have to keep a close eye on the emerging details about ASBOs breaches and the numbers of children in custody, and commit to learning from the results to inform our strategies for the use and enforcement of ASBOs on young people in the future.

It’s also important to note, in this context, the practice of deferring the operation of ASBOs, in the case of young people going into custody, until they come back out.  Again, this may, at first sight, seem a sensible way of preparing for the child’s release back into the community, but from the young person’s perspective, what they hear is that no-one believes that being locked up will do anything to change them.  We are reinforcing the idea that being locked up is strictly for punishment, not rehabilitation, and we are ignoring the fact that any child returning from a sentence of custody will have a period of YOT supervision, either under the community half of their detention and training order, or on licence. Aren’t we over-egging the pudding here?  It’s certainly worth a re-think about the point in the process at which such an ASBO is made, and what message that is sending to the young person. 

Lastly I want to look at Naming and Shaming practices and their impact on children and young people.

Perhaps the most important point to make about naming and shaming, and one The Childrens’ Society has been making for some time, is that it is likely to be counterproductive - if the aim is to change behaviour. Anyone who works directly with young people who offend will know of young people for whom local notoriety is only fuel to their fire.  But equally, for those who do want to make a fresh start, for whom being caught and reprimanded has had a cooling effect, the impact of negative publicity about them can only prolong their problems in engaging with their community more positively. People who may never have even known or met them, will know them only as a troublemaker, long after their behaviour has changed.   And as this example shows that if we make people’s histories follow them as they move to make a fresh start, then we really are setting people up to fail.  All of us will remember from our school days the fact that reputations stick, and where we are seeing the naming and shaming initiatives, there is no parallel effort being put into identifying and publicising success stories, children who have changed their behaviour, to updating the community members knowledge about these children, or rewarding their efforts with positive publicity.

Many young people have raised with us the potential for people to mistakenly identify and report children breaching their ASBO conditions, because many children dress similarly, have similar haircuts, and so forth, particularly within the same friendship groups.  Equally, photographs issued at one point in time may quickly go out of date, as young people grow and change their appearance and fashions, increasing the likelihood that people can make mistakes in identifying young people correctly. Many young people also have a real sense of injustice that malicious reports can be made up or exaggerated, and the breach process does not require those reports to be tested against a criminal standard of proof, even though the result is a criminal conviction for breach.

And overall, children and young people report to us that naming and shaming is exacerbating tensions between young people, adults and authorities, as they feel under constant negative scrutiny from the adults around them, whether or not they are under an ASBO themselves. The naming and shaming approach is of necessity a philosophy that encourages community members to feel that they have a role in policing their community, which in the most general sense they do.  But without being very careful about what that means in practice, it can lead to over-zealous and malicious ‘amateur’ policing and surveillance, such as private individuals videoing and photographing children as they go about their community.

In any other circumstance we would view such behaviour highly suspiciously, and we must appreciate how intrusive this feels for children.   If we do not show children that we have respect for their privacy, then we will have great difficulty explaining what privacy means and why they should show respect for other community members’ privacy.  I have here perhaps one of the most shocking pieces of local journalism that I have ever seen. It’s not quite naming and shaming, in the sense that the 84 photographs of children published in it are put up for the public to identify, rather than naming them as being on orders. The offences of which they are accused are graffiti offences, which, while I would agree are indeed offences and in need of addressing, hardly warrant the language used in this piece.  I have some doubt as to whether some of these children are even ten years old.  But let me read you the text:

“Enough is enough. It’s time for decent, law-abiding members of society to have their say and take the scum off our streets. We’re sick and tired of the yobs and vandals who think they can ruin the lives of ordinary people without being brought to task.

It really couldn’t be simpler. You identify these lowlife and we will work with the police to take action against them. Why should we be terrorised, and have things we care about destroyed, by jumped-up, thoughtless scumbags like these?

To add a little further interest to you task, not to mention to treat these wastrels with the disdain they deserve, we have come up with an EXCLUSIVE game for News Shopper readers as we ask you to play the first ever game of SHOP A YOB BINGO!

Simply identify three yobs in a row or four corners on any one page and you will be in with a chance of winning…a great digital camera….Just think, you might be able to take a few pictures of your own!”

Now I know that this is not happening all over the country: it is from a local London newspaper, in Plumstead.  And I know that it is perhaps the most extreme of examples.  But we must recognise that a naming and shaming approach, if encouraged, leads to overriding their rights to privacy and, in this case, their right to be considered innocent until proven guilty.  It is not difficult to imagine the reaction of a child reading this article at the breakfast-table, and for them to get a very clear message about their value to society, and that of their friends. 

And so to sum up, the key points that I want to emphasise are these - 

(1)  Children are as concerned as we all are about anti-social behaviour, but a great many are feeling misunderstood and excluded by the adult agenda in their communities 

(2)  We must communicate about anti-social behaviour much more effectively with children, and make sure we involve them in designing our responses to anti-social behaviour; 

(3)  We need to look holistically at the needs and situations of children and young people who cause trouble, in learning whether and how to use behavioural contracts and orders with them; 

(4)  Anything that results in more children being locked up is failing to address the problem effectively; 

(5)  Finally, we must be very careful about the language and publicity that goes out in communities about children’s anti-social behaviour, and whether it actually contributes to easing or exacerbating tension.

I will end by leaving you a message that young people in Thanet, Kent wanted you to hear.

“We know your trying to keep us safe
But keeping us grounded shows no faith”


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1027 26 July 2004  

From:  Michael Davis
Australian Immigration & Investment Center (AIIC)

24 July 2004

Dear Roger 

In 1938, in the town of Evian, there was a Conference to discuss the question of refugees (mainly Jewish, at that time) - and the leading countries of the world fudged the issue. I think that it is time to have a real and serious international conference on migration/refugees/statelessness. The world situation is getting worse and steps need to be taken to stop the decline into anarchy.

There are 'countries of migration', capable of receiving migrants, and there are countries that are not. We need to be clear about these two groups. Not every country can take people, but those which don't can contribute in other ways.

There are also laws and administrative conventions around the world that exacerbate the problem.  For example, it is in everyone's interest to establish an international law that deals conclusively with the legal status of every child who is born.  Whichever way you cut this particular problem, clearly it is best for world order for every child to gain - immediately and irrevocably - the citizenship of the place where he/she is born.  

Currently, in many countries around the world, your citizenship derives from your father, but not your mother; from your religion; from your tribe; from every conceivable consideration except the territory where you first entered God's poor Earth. This dog's breakfast of arrangements adds fuel to the flames of refugeedom and the hopelessness of statelessness.

The opposition to this idea is immense.  Muslim clerics faint at the idea that status could derive from your mother. That makes mother equal to father! Danes are appalled that non-whites born in Copenhagen could ever be Danes!  Israel's Knesset is currently discussing a law which intends restricting citizenship to Jews only!  Japan's population is collapsing, but try becoming Japanese if your race is wrong!  

These crazy ideas abound in the world -  and they contribute, on a daily basis, to worsening a serious problem.   This matter cries out for a most serious attempt by the forces of modernism (UK, USA, Canada, Australia, NZ, France and other like minded counties) to put in place an overarching, and legally pre-eminent, international law that gives an equal citizenship to all children based on the geography of their birth.

As a way forward, the United Nations could also give a child a passport that states that the child is a 'UN citizen'. This passport would be internationally valid and would allow travel, subject to the acquisition of residence visas in other countries.  For many people, it is their simple lack of "papers" that engenders hopelessness, and the panic of flight to the West.

  • This is just one idea among many possible ideas.  However, the first step forward is to get a serious UN Conference under way to confront the matter in a productive way.

The 190+ sovereign states won't be happy to see the emergence of a 'UN citizenship'.  But the failures of the many sovereign states - by simply allowing the refugee/stateless/mass migration problems turn into a crisis, now means that new ideas are necessary.

  • If Tony Blair really is on the verge of sending the Royal Marines to Darfur in Sudan to save millions of non whites (I will believe it when I see it), then he may very well be the right man to initiate the international conference that I am calling for.

Best regards

Mike Davis
Australian Immigration & Investment Center (AIIC)

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