In the heart of Greater Manchester, a concerted effort is underway to confront the escalating challenge of youth violence, leaving children with life-altering injuries. The Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital stands as a critical frontline, where dedicated professionals strive to mend the wounds of those caught in the crossfire. This year has borne witness to tragic incidents that have spurred a 10-year strategy to stem the tide of violence.
At the forefront of this battle is an emergency department consultant at the Royal Manchester Children’s Hospital. This medical professional not only witnesses the immediate aftermath of violence but also leads efforts to address its root causes as the clinical lead for the Greater Manchester Violence Reduction Unit. The unit focuses on young people aged 10 to 25, aiming to develop projects and activities that tackle the underlying issues driving violence.
The medical professional shares insights, revealing, “We take patients up to an hour’s ambulance travel time for us, so we will see young people with serious injuries brought in by ambulance from all over Greater Manchester, and into parts of Lancashire and Cheshire.”
The majority of cases involve minor injuries resulting from interpersonal violence—cuts, bruises, and punch injuries. While more severe cases, such as knife injuries, exist, they constitute a smaller fraction. The medical professional highlights the diverse sources of violence affecting young lives, ranging from school incidents to domestic violence and criminal exploitation.
Greater Manchester’s proactive response to this crisis is embodied in the newly launched “Greater than Violence Strategy.” Led by local authorities, the initiative aims to prevent and reduce serious violence over the next decade. Notably, knife crime has seen a 16% reduction in Greater Manchester, bucking the national trend. However, the region remains one of the hotspots for such incidents, with 3,012 knife or sharp instrument offenses recorded between June 2022 and July 2023.
In the midst of this complex scenario, hospitals play a crucial role in directing young victims towards support services. The Greater Manchester Navigator Project, operated by the community group Oasis, stands as a lifeline. Launched in May 2021, the project’s “navigators” are youth workers stationed in hospitals, offering support and guidance to help young individuals recover from violent experiences.
The medical professional elaborates on the collaboration, stating, “If they disclose to us that it’s as a result of assault or violence, we would offer them the option and we would ask their permission to share their details with the navigator service.”
The navigators, two individuals in this role, play a pivotal role in building trust with the young victims. Working in hospitals, they engage with teenagers during their most vulnerable moments, providing a calm and non-judgmental presence. One of the navigators explains, “They have me as a person they can contact rather than a leaflet for a service where they don’t know who they’re going to meet or who is going to support them.”
However, navigating the aftermath of violence extends beyond the immediate victims. Recognizing the impact on families, a support team for parents and carers has been established to provide assistance. A project coordinator for the navigators acknowledges the importance of separating support for parents and children. “A parent can be left really reeling with the emotions of their child being involved in a serious incident,” they explain.
The peak age range for navigators is between 14 and 16, addressing incidents where weapons are often not involved. Yet, the navigators are proactive in identifying potential escalation points, especially in schools. One of the navigators emphasizes the significance of early intervention, stating, “Some behavior that’s unwanted in the classroom can be a sign that something else is going on.”
Despite the challenges posed by NHS waiting lists and the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, navigators strive to offer consistent support. One of the navigators notes, “You’re meeting young people at the earliest stage possible when they’re coming in and being treated for injuries.”
As Greater Manchester embarks on a decade-long strategy to combat violence, the emergency department consultant remains hopeful. While acknowledging that change will take time, they express optimism in harnessing the energy of communities and directly engaging with young people to understand their fears and hopes. In their words, “I hope that over time… we can work collaboratively to reduce the number of people affected by violence across Greater Manchester.”