‘I blame the Daily Mail for the riots’ says charity chief

By Gracia McGrath, Chief Executive of Chance UK 28 March 2012

Gracia McGrath, Chief Executive of the leading mentoring charity Chance UK, responds to the long-awaited report from The Riots Panel and looks at the role the media has played in demonising young people.

This week saw the publication of the long awaited report by The Riots Panel, and we have now been told definitively that there was no single cause for the riots. There should be no surprise in that, except perhaps to those with the most rudimentary grasp of human behaviour.

The report makes 63 recommendations for how we can prevent such an occurrence happening again. I was glad to see that the recommendations formed such an important part of the report. In the eight months since the riots, Chance UK has been asked thousands of times what the causes were, but rarely what solutions there are. Looking at the key recommendations from the report I am delighted to see the emphasis given to the need for evidence based early intervention and the holistic approach to families.

We need to work with children to address issues as they start to show themselves, when it is relatively cheap and easy to do (in comparison to repairing destroyed communities and paying for more prison places). We need support for children in primary and secondary schools to prevent them being excluded and losing out on all the educational opportunities others enjoy. We need support for families that are struggling, and this means not closing family centres and Sure Start programmes that have proved so successful. We need to maintain services that can engage the most hard-to-reach families rather than weighing up the cost per head and deciding it is too expensive to do so. We need to remember that if you have grown up in chaos or in care, you will not necessarily have a healthy family model on which to bring up your children, as outlined in the Chance UK case study featured in the riots report. We therefore need more family ‘mentors’ such as those provided by CVS’s Volunteers in Child Protection

The report also highlights the need to make sure that children have positive role models in their families and in their communities—role models who can show children a future that includes them and is not out of reach. This has to include a move to ensure that fathers are encouraged to stay involved with their children both practically and legally, and only excluded when their child is not safe in their care, as a mother would be. A lot has been said about positive male role models for boys, but girls also need a positive male role model, and this has largely been ignored.

From the perspective of the children we work with at ChanceUK, the first thing that strikes you is the lack of aspiration. How do you get an idea of what you want to be when you grow up if you don’t know anyone who works? How do you know what your city looks like, never mind what opportunities might be out there for you, if you have never been outside your estate?