A youth work project has been set up at the accident and emergency department of St Thomas' Hospital to help teenagers from Southwark and Lambeth caught up in a cycle of violence.
The youth violence prevention project is run by the Oasis charity and funded with £348,500 from Guy's and St Thomas' Charity. The three-year programme will continue until July 2013.
Researchers from Kingston University's Centre for Abuse and Trauma Studies are monitoring the progress of the project to evaluate its success in potentially reducing the chances of young people presenting as victims of violence.
The project responds to a growing trend of young people turning up at the accident and emergency department after being caught up in violent incidents, only a small number of which are reported to police.
The project targets adolescents who are repeatedly coming to A&E by arranging follow-up support, and thereby aiming to reduce the longer term risks of violence.
The project is aimed at people like 17-year-old Liam from Southwark, who visited St Thomas' A&E department after repeated injuries. It was the thirty-third time he had been to A&E, often because of violence, and he has a history of involvement in a local gang.
Not having his parents involved in his life meant that he looked to his gang as an 'adopted family' from a very young age, he said.
Now he wants to get out of the gang and violence culture. "My past makes it impossible to escape and have a better life," he said..
"Being able to come here regularly means that I can talk out my anger, so that it don't build up. It helps me stay focused on working and being happy instead of getting involved in craziness and fights."
The Kingston team found that, like Liam, many victims tend to return to A&E again and again, and being assaulted has a knock-on effect on other parts of their life. Youth workers on the new project have been able to help victims find alternatives to hanging out in situations where they are vulnerable to gang-related activity, including mentoring, music and sports activities.
"There is already anecdotal evidence, which we hope to confirm soon, of positive changes in the young people's activities, social skills and personal development as a direct result of the project," Yael Ilan-Clarke, a research associate from Kingston University.
"The intervention is now running at full capacity, with a full time youth worker and two part-time students supporting the project. An average of six cases are identified each week and these are followed up by the youth workers. We are seeing approximately 22 per cent of the young people who are offered the service taking it up."
The service is being delivered by the charity Oasis and is currently available to any residents of Southwark and Lambeth who are aged 12 to 18 and are attending the St Thomas' A&E, having been assaulted or otherwise involved in violence.
If these criteria are met, the young person is assessed for risk of further assault. Someone with a first involvement with crime, a good school record and committed parents are considered low risk and no further action may be necessary.
At the other end of the scale, it may be a third or fourth time at A&E. There is evidence to show that being a victim of violence during adolescent years significantly increases the chances of being a victim or perpetrator of violence as an adult.
"Our A&E department often sees the same young victims come for treatment again and again," says Dr John Criddle, paediatric emergency medicine consultant at St Thomas' Hospital.
"We want to follow their cases beyond the hospital doors and help prevent them from coming back. The advantage of working in partnership with the charity Oasis is that they have experience in youth work and good relationships with agencies already running projects in the local community."
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