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Camden New Journal - FORUM: Opinion in the CNJ
Published: 26 June 2008

Keith Moffitt with some of Camden’s extra community support officers
We must work together to unlock the potential of our young people

It won’t be easy, and there are many obstacles to overcome, but every effort must be made in turning young people away from crime, writes Cllr Keith Moffitt

WHEN I received the news that my son had been badly injured I prayed that they had the wrong person – that it wasn’t my son.

“But it was, and on the day my 17-year-old son died, a part of me died too.”
These are the solemn words from a parent of one of the young people recently killed in London.
The issue of serious youth crime is nationwide. But it is even more distressing when a victim is a member of our own community.
The death of Sharma’arke Hassan, who recently died in Camden Town, is a tragic loss of a young life, and we all ask ourselves what could have been done to avoid it.
Three days after Sharma’arke was shot, I attended a London-wide Somali youth conference held here in Camden.
Tony McNulty, the minister for crime and policing, and Tim Godwin, London’s assistant commissioner of police, were fellow speakers.
We were also surrounded by a mixture of parents, teenagers and frontline workers in the community – we all sensed the seriousness of the moment.
People didn’t agree on every issue but one thing was clear – we all wanted to find a solution to stop this happening again.
But we recognised that we were facing complex problems that wouldn’t be simple or quick to solve.
Here in Camden, when a young life is lost, the whole community is shocked – and it is in the community that the solution lies.
We all share responsibility for what Camden is like to grow up in – and the council has an important part to play in that of course, but it can’t solve the problem alone.
Yes, our young people need educational and recreational opportunities, but the issue of youth crime involves much wider social issues.
We all have a responsibility – parents, schools, the police and voluntary organisations.
In Camden the council and its partners, such as the police, have what is widely acknowledged as an excellent track record of working together to solve problems.
Poor attainment at school, drug or alcohol misuse, deprivation and peer group pressure are all major factors that increase the chances of young people being involved in crime.
What’s more, fear of crime among young people is a real issue, because it can inhibit their quality of life, particularly their confidence in travelling around the borough and London.
As a council we have an important role to play in these areas.
So what are we doing? We have invested more in youth services this year than ever before, and children and young people have been involved in the decision-making process to make sure we are providing facilities they want and will use.
The choices are vast and range from arts and media activities, including hip hop, to sports and fitness courses.
We have targeted activities aimed at particular groups, areas and estates that are more at risk of being involved in crime, including Camden Town, Kentish Town and Holborn. We have many talented and dedicated staff in Camden who work closely with our young people. I have been out and seen our staff in action.
Just last year we put an additional 18 police community support officers on the streets in Camden Town – not only providing a visible presence but the officers have built up a rapport with some of the young people.
Home life and the role of parents are also vital. A distressed mother whose teenage son had ended up in prison recently came to my surgery in a state of despair – she felt at a loss to understand what was going on in her son’s life.
We need to encourage parents to take an active part in what their children are doing and talk to them about the issues.
The Families in Focus project offers support and advice to families and the Family Drug and Alcohol Court aims to keep families together by helping young people and parents overcome their addictions.
Most of our young people are talented, lively and full of potential. I don’t claim that it will be easy and I certainly don’t think the council can do it on its own – but I want to unlock that potential and make sure that every young person has the opportunity to succeed here in Camden.

* Keith Moffitt is the Liberal Democrat leader of Camden Council

Send your letters to: The Letters Editor, Camden New Journal, 40 Camden Road, London, NW1 9DR or email to The deadline for letters is midday Tuesday. The editor regrets that anonymous letters cannot be published, although names and addresses can be withheld. Please include a full name, postal address and telephone number. Letters may be edited for reasons of space.

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