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Look at the people under the hoodies, says youth officer


CHURCHES are being encouraged to club together to "have a go" at tackling yob culture.

In recent weeks, stories about violent youths have abounded. The Chief Superintendent of Greater Manchester Police, David Baines, denounced out-of-control gangs of youths as "feral", after they had critically injured 48-year-old Phil Carrol near his home in Salford on 13 May.

"They don't give a damn about the police or the criminal-justice system," said Mr Baines. A 15-year-old youth was subsequently arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.

At around the same time, the Vicar of St James, Minrow, the Revd Robin Usher, was forced to conduct an Ascension Day service in his vicarage after youths made the service in church untenable ( News, 13 May).

But the youth officer for Manchester diocese, Andy Poole, said this week that these events should not be seen as a threat, but as an opportunity to work with young people. The churches should work together, and avoid hysteria, he said.

"There has been a lot of political hysteria around young people. The youths are more troubled than troubling," he said on Monday.

"To call them 'feral youths' is an incorrect description. Quite a few of them in the inner city are fighting social exclusion, social disadvantage, and injustice."

Parishioners could help end young people's sense of exclusion without putting themselves in danger, he said. People would not get beaten up in the process, "if they take advice, assess the situation, and are strategic in their response".

Mr Poole said his job was to help parishes get to know young people and work with them. "A lot of my job is trying to build confidence with people in the churches, so that they can work with young people.

"There are a few churches that are experiencing difficulties, and we are working together with the Archdeacon of Rochdale, the Ven. Andrew Ballard, to assess how many. We want to be positive, and to find out why young people are hanging around church buildings.

"We are seeking to work together with other agencies, community workers, youth workers, and other partners to see what they can do.
We want to train, equip, and resource parishes to work in partnership."

M13, a diocesan youth project in Longsight and Brunswick, is helping about 100 young people develop life skills and find employment and education. And a project at St Paul's, Bolton, paid for by the Youth Evangelism Fund, is helping up to a dozen young people make a positive contribution to their estate.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation says that in areas of high anti-social behaviour (ASB), people feel powerless to control their environment.

"The sense of powerlessness appeared to be both a consequence of ASB and a cause, as it increased the chances that worsening ASB would go unchecked," says a team from the Criminal Policy Research Institute, at King's College, London, in a report for the foundation.

It warns that anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) need rethinking, as ignoring them carries heavy penalities.

"It is important to develop much more explicit rationales for justifying the use of such powerful civil law remedies, in order to set agreed limits to their use," says the report.

 ASB has a significant impact on a minority of people in Britain, but little or no effect on the quality of life of the majority, it says. Some residents think that the behaviour is a symptom of social and moral decline; are highly cynical about the effectiveness of ASBOs and dispersal orders; and want the community to mobilise against the perpetrators.

Others (particularly younger people) excuse the behaviour, taking the view that "kids will be kids", and say that children need more diversions. But local agencies explain it in terms of social exclusion, says the report.

Anti-social behaviour strategies: Finding a balance; by Andrew Millie, Jessica Jacobson, Eraina McDonald and Mike Hough, published by The Policy Press (1-86134-763-4, £13.95). www.jrf.org.uk .

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