We have to understand that these children’s lives are different, according to Chief Superintendent Ade Adelekan in the Evening Standard (4 February 2019).
This week as he sought to provide the statistics about those boys who were either murdered or murder other young boys. He painted a picture of young boys from black and ethnic minority backgrounds, some for poorer communities and all who have been attracted to gangs because they are excluded from school, have no significant role models at home or have often moved from place to place. In order words – lonely, stressed, vulnerable and angry children looking for a sense of belonging where people care and nurture them (even if it is to rob and kill).
I was unsurprised by the descriptions, but it left me furious because we as a society have failed these children. Listen as he warned us that:
“We cannot enforce our way out of this; prevention and intervention is key”
He is right. The long-term answer is early intervention and it starts in the womb. We have a continual flow of national and international research which points this out. From Mayor Giuliani’s theories of broken windows, economic findings from Professor James Heckman, to the Glasgow Violence Reduction Unit set up by John Carnochan and Karen McCluskey, the answer is consistent; invest in their Early Years.
The most important learning in preschool education builds aspiration, motivation, socialising and self-esteem and encourages and develops mastery. Without this, successful schooling and adult learning is unlikely. Clearly, those children with home lives that present them with unremitting challenges (as described by the Inspector) would have benefitted from this.
Instead, we have the opposite happening. Early intervention is merely a mirage as we watch children centres close, nursery education remains underfunded and recruitment continues to be challenging – all for lack of investment. Worse still is the number of nurseries in poor neighbourhoods closing because they cannot make ends meet – locking out those very children and their parents from nurseries at a time when good quality education could really impact their lives for the better. Instead, we have shortcuts through early entry to primary education which is not a suitable alternative to the distinct and fundamental phase of education we call nursery.
Children are the litmus test of our society and right now we are ignoring the findings. When are we going to wake up and recognise our combined responsibility to look after our children? Nelson Mandela observed that there can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children. I suspect if we look into ours we may not like what we see.