Holly Whitbread is an Epping Forest District councillor and currently works as a Parliamentary Researcher.
Up and down the country, unruly teens plague our streets. They are often fueled by alcohol and in some circumstances illegal substances. Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) is a nuisance, which disturbs the tranquillity of neighbourhoods. Stoking fear into innocent residents and exposing cracks in public civility. There has been a particularly noticeable rise in suburban communities.
This conduct is unacceptable and the tide of such incidence needs to end. Unfortunately, addressing ASB is a wobbly tightrope in terms of its legality. Due to its wide-ranging definition, many examples of anti-social behaviour is not in itself illegal. In can be difficult to pin down the culprits and their accomplices. The offenders of ASB can be subject to punishments which attempt to limit movement and association. This includes a civil injunction, a community protection notice or criminal behaviour order. Although, these responses are often deemed to be not wholly effective.
There is certainly a place for action by the police, local organisations, agencies and local authorities. They have a responsibility to address ASB and to help people who are suffering from it. For example, beyond the action of local authorities and police, there are merits in arguments in relation to education, the re-introduction of national service, investment in youth services and activities. However, whilst they can help ease the issue, and it is vital that they do take action, such bodies cannot solve it alone.
In fact, where I serve as a district councillor in Epping Forest, we have been proactive and adopted an innovative approach to tackling ASB. The council has funded three Essex Police officers which are tasked by the authority. In addition, we fund park-guard officers, their role is to provide high visibility targeted engagement. One of their core functions of this additional resource is to address ASB. Their work is targeted and focused. They work alongside ASB officers from the council building which plays host to a community safety hub, enabling efficient and effective multi-agency working.
This initiative has seen positive results in addressing ASB. Such as, pre-planned operations neutralised situations throughout the district on Halloween. In addition, increased visibility is important in terms of reducing the fear of crime.
Beyond practical action, there is also an important role for public engagement. In my locality, I have established an Anti-Social Behaviour and Youth Strategy working group, through the town council. This is an apolitical group which works cross-community with stakeholders including the police, local authorities, schools, businesses and youth organisations. Its primary function is one of communication, ensuring that problems are exposed and reporting back on action which has been taken by the relevant authorities. Furthermore, consideration is being given to various projects for youth engagement.
Whilst the multi-faceted approach to tackling ASB, demonstrated in my district is positive. There is continued and increasing pressure to exert more cost and resource to address ASB, however, it seems clear to me that the greatest issue cannot be solved through financial investment.
We can continue pontificate and preach about how to address ASB, although, in this modern day and age to often do we look for someone else to provide an answer. Interestingly, those I have spoken to in the teaching profession have commented that there is a frustration that they are often blamed for incidents which occur outside of the school gates, outside of school hours.
It is clear that more focus must be placed on parental responsibility. Indeed, this is a duty enshrined in law, in s 3(1) Children Act 1989, where it sets out the definition for parental responsibility as, “all the rights, duties, powers, responsibilities and authority which by law a parent of a child has in relation to the child and his property.” Unfortunately, too many parents need a reminder of their legislative as well as their moral duty.
At the risk of sounding nostalgic, the fear of consequences for misbehaviour has been lost for many. The liberal parents of ‘Generation Z’ have a duty to set some boundaries and discipline. Rules need to be set out and if rules are broken there must be consequences. It is vital parents of are more aware of where their children are and what they are doing.
A crucial ingredient is missing in some of today’s generation, a value which hasn’t been instilled or cultivated in many: respect! It is clear that there has been a gradual degeneration of the esteem which young people hold supposedly authority figures and the value they place on the community which they live. Addressing this problem is an intergenerational challenge, at the heart of which is the need to strengthen family units and societal values.
Young people need to feel as though they have a stake in society, a sense of active citizenship. They need to identify their position in its hierarchy and there needs to be a re-asserting of respect for authority figures. The re-establishment of more community-centric policing may be one way of helping to address this. However, these values must begin at home and they must be cultivated to protect our environment.
Although, it is clear that turning the tide will not be easy. The role of responsible parenting has never been more important. If a police officer knocks at your door to complain about your child, accountability must be taken and immediate action is required to turn the situation around. It should go without saying that parents need to address the bad behaviour of their children and the onus should be placed on them to stop it.
Whilst, the majority of parents and guardians fulfil their responsibilities, those who fail to set out limitations and sufficient chastisement are facilitating the swell of anti-social behaviour which is disturbing the life of their fellow residents. As a nation and in individual communities we must evaluate expectations and reassert bread and butter values. This is far easier to assert that change. It requires wholesale societal change. The war on ASB is won through the battle of hearts and minds.