Peer-to-peer engagement in youth justice – a frontline view

Katy leads her local council’s peer-to-peer engagement programme, Streetbase. She describes for us how their patrols have made a difference during the pandemic

Friday 10 April 2020, our first Streetbase COVID-19 patrol. I was full of excitement to be out of the house, cleared as a ‘critical worker’; but also filled with anxiety as I prepped myself with PPE, digital surveys and a strict two metre minimum distance. Before heading out to each patrol, Streetbase work closely with our Anti-Social Behaviour team, local police officers and Early Help team. This allowed us to gage the whereabouts of young people often seen outside during lockdown and of young people who may be missing due to being groomed.

Over the next three months of socially-distanced patrols, we encountered the most vulnerable, at-risk and hopeless young people. They were vulnerable to family breakdowns due to lockdown, at-risk of being groomed, to keep a roof over their family’s head during the pandemic and hopeless in the system that has worked against them and their trauma. The training each Streetbase Lead goes through, including safeguarding and adolescent at risk training, enabled us to provide them quality support with confidence.

The first of our patrols asked the young people about their understanding of COVID-19 and the restrictions put in place to keep everyone safe. Not many knew of the social restrictions or found guidance hard to understand and follow. For Streetbase, we clearly had an important role to play in making this vital information accessible to young people on the streets of Waltham Forest.

Another important role we took on during this time was supporting young people through their anger, discontent and secondary trauma caused by the murder of George Floyd. In response, Streetbase created a new survey based on police interactions during COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement. This survey was a chance for young people to tell us about their experiences with police, their thoughts on how police should engage with young people and how they wish to be supported by the authorities.

The survey showed us that there is still a real need for trust to be built up between young people and the police and that we need to build awareness and support for young people wishing to complain following their interaction with the police. We also saw how passionate young people are about the Black Lives Matter movement, demonstrated by the actions they are taking to raise awareness and educate one another about systemic racism and social injustice.

17 patrols, 100+ survey responses and three months later, Streetbase has helped more young people to feel safe in their local area and supported young people who are at-risk of joining gangs. We hope to continue to be at the forefront of change that young people want to see in their community and act as the bridge of communication, providing all those we engage with on the street vital access to information.

Streetbase is run by Waltham Forest Young Advisors and Youth Independent Advisory Group. These organisations come together with others to form the Youth Ambassadors Network at the Youth Justice Board and offer expertise, advice and support to the youth justice system.

Youth Justice Board for England and Wales