Sports Podge, held on the 5th of May at the Oval, was an amazing event organised by Phil Jones and his team, an event that brought people together through the power of sports. We were blown away by the concept and the execution of this event.
From the moment we arrived, we were impressed by the level of organisation. The wonderful food, top-notch entertainments, and great people we networked with throughout the day made the event truly unforgettable. The location at The Oval was also an ideal setting, providing a perfect backdrop to the exciting activities.
The atmosphere was lively and welcoming, making it easy for everyone to connect and enjoy themselves. We were thrilled to meet so many like-minded individuals who shared the same passion for sports and the desire to make a positive impact on the community.
In conclusion, Sports Podge was an amazing event that exceeded all our expectations. I enjoyed every moment of it, from the food to the entertainment, the people, and the activities. I can’t wait to attend the next one and see what Phil Jones has in store for us. It was truly an unforgettable experience!
Machetes and zombie knives could be banned in England and Wales, with people selling them facing up to two years in jail, under government plans to close a legal loophole.
After complaints from police chiefs and MPs that some large, bladed weapons are excluded from current laws, the Home Office will consult the public over plans to ban their ownership and sale.
Certain blades that are “designed to look menacing” and “with the intention to threaten” are not currently prohibited but would be outlawed under proposed measures, the Home Office said.
Knife crime has increased by 9% in the past year and 34% in the past decade, to 45,000 offences.
This month a judge urged jurors to write to their MPs about the “shocking” availability of dangerous weapons online after a man was found guilty of killing an 18-year-old with a 22-inch zombie knife.
Under laws introduced in 2016, police can only confiscate and prosecute possession of zombie knives in private homes if they meet three criteria. The knives must have a cutting edge, a serrated edge and “images or words that suggest it is to be used for the purpose of violence”.
Inspired by horror films, the curved blades with serrated edges are often sold as collector’s items, but police say they are increasingly being carried by criminals.
Machetes have no such markings, while some retailers have been selling zombie knives without any writing or images on them or even packaging that would allow police to seize them.
While machetes and other similar knives can have legitimate uses in gardening and the agricultural sector, the Home Office said criminals were buying, selling and using larger bladed articles as weapons to intimidate and cause others serious harm.
The seven-week public consultation will define which machetes and large knives will be banned, inviting views to ensure proposals are targeted and balanced in order to keep our streets safe, the Home Office said.
The home secretary, Suella Braverman, said: “The thugs wielding these deadly knives aim to terrorise their victims and the public, and too often even carry out horrific or fatal attacks. They are emboldened by the cowardly idea that carrying these blades inflates their own status and respect.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has shone a spotlight on the ‘digital divide’ which widens inequalities between disadvantaged children and young people and their peers. Charlotte Goddard investigates.
It is easy to think of children and young people as “digital natives”, navigating the internet with ease. But this is a misconception, explains Theo Blackwell, chief digital officer for London. “We know children often are very adept at some parts of internet access but less so in others,” he says. The pandemic has made it impossible to ignore the fact a significant proportion of children and young people face barriers to digital inclusion, affecting their education, wellbeing and ability to make their voices heard.
“It became very clear how much of an impact digital poverty was having on a whole other host of social issues,” says Cathryn Moses-Stone, head of policy and public affairs at Catch22, which has partnered with Nominet and Livity on research into the barriers to digital skills and access for some of the most disadvantaged groups in the UK. “We had child sexual exploitation team key workers who couldn’t get in touch with young people, we had care leavers who had to choose between paying for the internet or paying for heating.”
As of December 2021, the UK government has reacted to these issues by providing 1,679,785 devices and 101,652 routers to support children’s lockdown learning. However, there have been concerns about delays in delivery, lack of skills and support for educators, safety and security issues, and a lack of at-home support and space. “Devices weren’t getting through to the right people, and just getting a device isn’t enough – what if they can’t afford to buy data?” says Moses-Stone.
While a lack of appropriate platforms is one aspect of digital exclusion, the digital divide is not just about one-off deliveries of hardware. It also comprises connectivity, sustainable access – devices and connections that are upgraded as technology progresses – and the appropriate digital skills to effectively participate online. In their report Closing the Digital Divide for Good, charities Carnegie UK and UK Committee for Unicef (Unicef UK) also argue a safe online environment is essential for digital inclusion. “Just having a laptop or even having a phone does not make you digitally included,” says Anja Nielsen, senior policy adviser, education and youth at Unicef UK.
Digital exclusion is holding back children in some of the most marginalised situations, including care leavers and looked-after children, those from disadvantaged families and living in rural areas, children with special educational needs and disabilities, Gypsy and Traveller children, and young offenders. Nominet’s Digital Youth Index, which is tracking the digital divide, found children and young people more likely to be left behind in the digital world are those without access to a laptop or desktop computer, those whose household does not primarily speak English or Welsh, those with special educational needs, receiving free school meals and being looked after by a single parent or caregiver.
“Digital exclusion maps fairly well on to other issues of exclusion – groups of young people that are more at risk of certain vulnerabilities are likely to also be at risk of digital exclusion,” says Anna Grant, senior policy and development co-ordinator at Carnegie UK, which has been working on issues around the digital divide for around a decade.
“More needs to be done to better skill all children in tech, let alone young people who are at a serious social disadvantage anyway,” says Moses-Stone. Catch 22’s Digital Edge scheme supports people from under-served communities to access a digital apprenticeship with a local employer. Young people from lower-socio economic groups are six times as likely not to have access to the internet, and 10 times as likely to not have access to a laptop, desktop or tablet compared with young people from the highest socio-economic groups, according to Ofcom.
A debate on digital inclusion took place in Westminster Hall last November and a raft of local and national initiatives have sprung up to tackle the issue. Barnardo’s, for example, is working with Vodafone to provide training for young people in digital skills and encouraging donations of secondhand digital devices. However, there are concerns the return to the classroom risks a de-prioritisation of efforts to close the digital divide.
Even if day-to-day education remains classroom-based, extracurricular and non-academic work is set to become increasingly digitally accessed, while social interactions, access to information and elements of services such as mental health support are moving online. “We were really concerned that there was going to be a cliff edge – data packages that ran out, support systems that were time bound – that caused us real concern about what was going to happen next,” says Grant.
So what can be done to tackle the issue? First, says Moses-Stone, there needs to be a more coherent understanding of what digital poverty looks like and which groups it most affects, and more of a focus on tackling the gap in digital skills. Carnegie UK and Unicef UK are calling for a long-term government strategy to tackle digital exclusion, developed in partnership with children and young people and including a monitoring and evaluation framework.
Children’s professionals also have a role to play in pinpointing who needs support, but they also need training up in digital skills themselves. “That’s where frontline services really come to the fore because they’re the ones that understand communities,” says Grant. Sharing of best practice is also important. “A lot of the solutions are there and being implemented at a local level or hyper local level – it’s just about using all of that to create a sustained response,” says Nielsen.
Unicef UK and Carnegie UK see digital inclusion as inextricably linked to children’s rights, as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, including access to education, the best health care possible, access to information, and the right to have their voices heard. “Digital inclusion is not really an end goal in and of itself, it is what it enables people to do,” says Grant.
THE DIGITAL DIVIDE IN NUMBERS
2% of school-age children could only access the internet via a smartphone during the first lockdown
80% of children had constant home access to an appropriate device to enable them to connect to the internet for online learning, 13 per cent had access some of the time, two per cent rarely had access and two per cent never had access
2.2 million young people (15%) have a smartphone but no access to a laptop or desktop computer
30% of children living in households with a combined income below £20,000 do not have access to a laptop or desktop computer
32% of young people do not have access to home broadband
We need local and national government to work with charities and business to tackle digital divide
By Cathryn Moses-Stone, Head of policy and public affairs, Catch22
The question we should all be asking is: What happens if we don’t address the digital divide for children and young people?
Digital exclusion is now a well-documented issue. There are a multitude of well-intended and well-executed schemes to try to make sure children and young people are digitally connected and this support comes from across society, big business and government.
But it is increasingly apparent this isn’t enough. Schemes can be patchy in their reach or uptake, often excluding the groups of young people that need them the most through flaws in design or delivery. There are some brilliant projects, such as the BT Social Tariff, launched last year for households receiving universal credit and other benefits. This will make a big difference but what plugs the gap for those who don’t claim universal credit or jobseeker benefits?
There is even a conflicting sense of what the scale of the problem really is. Just because a home has broadband, that doesn’t mean it is good enough for a family of five to work, learn and live with, or they have the devices they need to do that. Youth Employment UK’s annual Youth Voice Census shows that in lockdown two in three young people studying at home shared devices with at least one other person.
All of this is before we even address the skills you need to be able use the digital world. The Nominet Digital Youth Index shows that while 90 per cent of young people have a smartphone, six million do not have home broadband or a laptop or desktop computer needed to access education or skills development, or to search or apply for jobs.
Catch22 is working with Nominet on research to try to better understand which groups of young people are being hardest hit by the digital divide and barriers to gaining digital skills for employment – as well as what works in tackling these issues and, crucially, who is accountable.
My son is two and a half. Nearly two years of home working means he knows “mummy working” involves me sitting at my laptop, typing away. He can spell his name out on my laptop keyboard. He can also unlock my phone, go straight to the BBC iPlayer app and start an episode of Postman Pat.
He is already being set up for a digital future. A future that requires us to access GP test results online, register vaccine status for travel and, fundamentally, to be able to write a CV, apply for and succeed in a job.
But what happens to the children or families that don’t have this luxury? The luxury of access, the right networks of people, know-how or education needed to develop a digital skillset and an understanding of how to stay safe online and harness all it has to offer.
We know many children and young people are tech savvy, but that doesn’t mean those skills are transferrable to the workplace or used for positive means. Growing up with digital access and literacy has to be as essential as learning how to write with a pen and paper.
Social inequality is widening because of the digital divide. The Social Mobility Commission’s 2021 State of the Nation report recognises the role of digital access and skills in supporting future social mobility and reduced inequality. That gulf will only continue to grow if we don’t build on the great work that has begun, to develop a more cohesive and targeted plan of action.
We need a centralised government strategy – one that is considered to be as fundamental as tackling poverty or joblessness. They do, after all, go hand in hand. We need a commitment from businesses to help continue to deliver devices and data to those that need it the most but cannot currently afford or access it. We need them to work with government and civil society to help develop the digital skills of our young people.
The concept of corporate parenting should be as relevant for businesses employing young people in their communities as it is for a local authority. The National Databank, which provides free Sim cards and mobile data to those affected by data poverty, was created by Virgin Media O2 in collaboration with other digital inclusion experts including Hubbub and Nominet. It is being run by the Good Things Foundation through its network of 5,000 community groups and is a brilliant example of commitment and collaboration.
We need local authorities and the third sector to be the bridge for government and business, using their understanding of the communities they support and trusted relationships to connect those that need help the most with initiatives that can help them. And we need digital skills development to be as core to the school curriculum as learning the phonetic alphabet.
My son will be okay. Other people’s children won’t. And the consequences for them, and for our society, could be devastating.
CASE STUDY YOUNG PEOPLE CAMPAIGN TO KEEP CARE LEAVERS CONNECTED
The National House Project supports young people leaving care to live independently. Its Care Leavers National Movement is made up of care leavers from local House Projects who meet regularly to come up with new ideas to improve things for young people.
In February 2020, the group discussed care leaver support packages, with many mentioning difficulties in affording WiFi. “By the time we next met, we had gone into lockdown and the world relied on WiFi, so our discussion came into stark focus, as the young people couldn’t keep in touch with a lot of important services,” says young people’s participation and development worker Rosie Blackett.
The National House Project was able to equip the 250 or so young people taking part in its projects with data connectivity and smart phones for the first three months of lockdown. “Then the government started offering devices but there were difficulties – there was only so much data on the routers allocated, the same laptops were offered to five- and 18-year-olds with no differentiation, many of the laptops had settings which meant you couldn’t use Google Chrome, for example,” explains Blackett.
The group reached out to charities like Catch22 and the Care Leaver Covenant and signed up around 30 organisations to the Keeping Care Leavers Connected Campaign, which lobbied nationally and locally for digital support for care leavers.
In March 2021, Islington Council became the first local authority in the country to commit to giving all care leavers 12 months of free WiFi. “It was the right thing to do,” says Brenda Amisi-Hutchinson, service manager for independent futures at Islington’s Care Experienced Young Person Service. “Thinking about our corporate parenting duties, it is important to us to offer what a reasonable parent would offer.” Other councils are also showing an interest.
While there is a lot going on to tackle the digital divide, care leavers can fall through the gaps says Blackett. “When we talk about the digital divide, we’re often referring to young people in education but many care leavers are not in education, employment or training.”
For care leavers, who may have lacked stable, long-term relationships, the internet is vital to keep in touch with friends and family as well as accessing services. “Whether it’s paying utility bills, doctors’ appointments, accessing counselling support or social workers and personal advisors keeping in touch through WhatsApp, everything is online,” says Blackett.
Triggered by the need to connect to young people during the lockdown, the National House Project has launched an online support platform for care leavers. Funded by the DfE, it will be rolled out to all local authorities, featuring tailored content and regional resources.
CASE STUDY TASKFORCE TO TACKLE DIGITAL EXCLUSION IN THE CAPITAL
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, launched a taskforce in February 2021 to tackle digital exclusion, bringing together the public sector, charities, councils and private sector. “One of the key concerns when the country was in lockdown was the fact children couldn’t learn online, young people couldn’t search for jobs online, or communicate with their loved ones – it was one of those issues that really rose to the top of the agenda,” says London’s chief digital officer Theo Blackwell. “We wanted to address this problem in a much more co-ordinated way.”
The taskforce is mapping out the need for devices and reliable connectivity across London. “We lacked data at crucial times during the crisis that would enable us to triage need quickly,” says Blackwell. “The tech sector was responding but they faced the same challenge – they were saying ‘We can give free data but who shall we give it to?’” The London Office of Technology and Innovation has created a digital divide map of London and 24 “personas”, showing different types of people affected by the digital divide, including care leavers, and disadvantaged families. Organisations can use this information to target support most effectively.
One pilot programme is looking at the upcycling of public sector digital devices, sending them to people who need them. “Each year tens of thousands of devices that are not that old fall out of use in the public sector, police and local councils,” says Blackwell. “We’re formulating a plan to set up a London-wide campaign around this and create a sustainable mechanism for laptops not to go to the skip.”
There is also work going on with telecommunication companies to create “social tariffs” for those who can’t afford connectivity, provide training in basic digital skills and an innovation programme to identify and overcome problems, led by the London Office of Technology and Innovation. “There is still a lot more work to do around school-aged children and digital exclusion,” says Blackwell. “It’s more than just an equity thing. How can you innovate as a city when you are leaving people behind?”
London set an unwelcome new record of 30 teenage stabbing homicides in 2021, while a third of all of England’s stabbing deaths are reported by the Metropolitan Police.
The picture in the capital is bleak: fearful for their safety, more children are carrying knives, community workers say. Some pupils are so afraid of being attacked they are being shuttled to school by taxi.
What can be done to save young people’s lives in 2022?
She explained that when she asked a group of children about to start at secondary school what they were most afraid of, “100% of them, all primary school children, said they were [most] scared of being stabbed”.
Speaking of the trauma some of these 10 and 11-year-olds have experienced, Ms Goupall said: “Thirty young people died last year, which is a whole classroom.”
For the activist, who founded the Justice for Jermaine Foundation, the way to tackle the issue of knife-carrying is to let campaigners like her into schools to speak to pupils.
She said that by telling young people how her brother bled to death, it meant they could relate to the tragedy and, she hopes, will be less likely to carry a knife.
“We try to sugar-coat it but they are already exposed to all this, so we shouldn’t sugar-coat it any more.”
One of those present at the talks in Croydon, a south London borough where five teenagers were stabbed to death last year, was the principal of Oasis Academy, Saqib Chaudhri.
He has long had reservations about letting activists into his school but said he had changed his mind following the deaths of two of his students in 2021, because he currently felt “powerless”.
“I [previously] refused to allow the streets of Croydon into my corridors because I wanted my corridors to feel like a safe space,” he said.
“I’m looking at it differently now – I’m thinking how can I get the streets and the community into my school?
“The borough needs to come into every single school for the times the school can’t be there.”
Knife crime is crazy since the summer,” according to Aaron Nzita, 19, who explained how he was mugged at knifepoint in September.
Mr Nzita, who works in community engagement, was at a cash machine on Croydon’s London Road when he was approached from behind and shoved over a knee-high wall by a teenager.
“This young guy just pushed me over the wall, grabbed me, and said he would stab me in my face if I didn’t give him all my money,” he said.
“It was really nerve-wracking – I thought I was going to end up in hospital.” Luckily, two passers-by approached and the would-be mugger fled.
Exposure to spaces such as beaches and rivers leads to greater value being placed in natural settings, study finds
Childhood days on the beach or messing around in rivers can have significant lasting benefits for our wellbeing in adulthood, according to a study.
It found that exposure to blue spaces – such as coasts, rivers and lakes – as a child made revisiting blue spaces in adulthood more likely, as these adults showed greater familiarity with and placed greater value in natural settings.
More than 15,000 participants in 18 different countries were surveyed for the study, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology by researchers at the University of Exeter.
“Learning to swim and appreciate the dangers in terms of rip currents, cold temperatures etc is of course primary,” says Mathew White, a senior scientist at the University of Vienna and co-author of the study, “but the message we are trying to get across is that to only teach children about the dangers of water settings may make them overly afraid of, and ill-equipped to benefit from, places that can also be hugely beneficial to their health and wellbeing as they grow up.
“The vast majority of blue space visits both for adults and children do not involve getting wet – so there are also many advantages from spending time near water, not just in it.”
There has been a growing body of research over the last decade about the specific beneficial effects of blue space on mental health.
A review published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health in 2011 suggested visits to blue space could increase people’s physical activity levels and lower stress and anxiety, while boosting their mood and psychological wellbeing.
Another review published by the Environmental Agency in 2020, found that blue spaces were associated with improvement of mood and feelings of restoration to a greater degree than green spaces.
The study’s lead author, Valeria Vitale, a PhD candidate at Sapienza University of Rome, said via email: “We recognise that both green and blue spaces have a positive impact on people’s mental and physical health. Also, prior studies examining childhood nature exposure and adulthood outcomes have largely focused on green space, or natural spaces in general. However, as we highlighted in our paper blue spaces have unique sensory qualities (light reflections, wave motion, sounds, etc) and facilitate a distinct range of leisure activities (swimming, fishing, water sports).”
She added: “We believe our findings are particularly relevant to practitioners and policymakers because of the nationally representative nature of the samples. First, our findings reinforce the need to protect and invest in natural spaces in order to optimise the potential benefits to subjective wellbeing. Second, our research suggests that policies and initiatives encouraging greater contact with blue spaces during childhood may support better mental health in later life.”
One in three children lie about their age to access adult content on social media, according to research commissioned by the regulator, Ofcom.
Many social media sites, such as Instagram, do not permit under-13s to sign up, while accounts for under-18s have limited functionality.
But researchers found children were faking their ages to skirt the rules.
Ofcom says this increases the risk of children seeing content which may be inappropriate or harmful.
Anna-Sophie Harling, from Ofcom, told BBC News the way social media platforms categorised users by age had a “huge impact” on the content they were shown.
She cited the recent Molly Russell inquest: “That was a very specific case of harmful content that had very detrimental impacts and tragic outcomes on a family in the UK.
“When we talk about potentially harmful content to under-18s, it’s content that might have more significant negative consequences for under-18s because they’re still developing.
“When children are repeatedly exposed to images and videos that contain certain images, they’re then essentially led to act in different ways or to think differently about themselves or their friends.”
The Ofcom-commissioned research found 32% of children have an account intended for adults, while 47% of children aged eight to 15 have a user age of 16 and over.
And 60% of children under the age of 13 who use social media accounts have their own profiles, despite not being old enough.
Ms Harling said the age categorizations were meant to be “one of the main ways” in which platforms protected the safety of their users.
“If we want to get serious about protecting children online, we need to make sure that platforms have a way to find out exactly how old those users are,” she said.
“We need to work both with parents and young people, but also platforms, to make sure that the ages at which those accounts are set are done in an accurate way.”
YouTube says it has made investments to protect children, such as launching a dedicated children’s app and introducing new data practices for children’s content.
The BBC also approached Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, for comment. A spokesperson referred to the latest work from Meta on verifying the ages of younger users, such as allowing people to “ask others to vouch for their age” or using technology which analyses videos people take of themselves.
Twitter and TikTok have also been approached for comment.
Children are becoming more unhappy with their lives, schooling and appearance, according to research detailing the “desperately worrying” decline of children’s wellbeing in the UK.
Around one in eight children (12%) aged 10-15 were unhappy with school in 2019-20, data analysed by The Children’s Society suggests.
And six per cent were unhappy with their lives overall, according to the results set out in its Good Childhood report 2022.
Events since then, such as the cost-of-living crisis, are having a significant impact on families, the authors said, while children are also struggling following the disruption of the coronavirus pandemic.
The charity surveyed more than 2,000 children aged 10-17, and their parent or carer, across the UK between May and June.
It also analysed data from the UK Understanding Society survey, which covers 40,000 UK households annually, with questions completed by adults and children aged 10-15.
More than a third of parents and carers surveyed by the charity said they had struggled with the costs of school trips and uniforms, while more than a quarter struggled with the cost of school shoes, computer equipment and PE kit.
Some 85% said they were concerned about the impact of the cost-of-living crisis on their family over the next year.
And 11% of children and 13% of parents or carers said they did not cope well with changes caused by coronavirus.
Analysis of the Understanding Society study suggests, on average, happiness with life as a whole, friends, appearance and school were all significantly lower in 2019-20 – the latest available data – than in 2009-10.
Some 12% were unhappy with school in 2019-20, and six per cent about their lives overall.
It also found girls in particular were struggling with their body image, with 18% unhappy with their appearance in 2019-20.
This is significantly higher than the 10% of boys who felt this way, and a “worrying jump” from the 15% of girls who were unhappy with their appearance a decade ago.
Mark Russell, chief executive at The Children’s Society, called the state of decline in children’s wellbeing “desperately worrying”.
He said: “Right now, the negative effects of the cost-of-living crisis, the disruption of the pandemic to young people’s education, and the ongoing decline in children’s happiness are on a collision course.
“School is a vital setting to influence children’s wellbeing, but they need more support, as the reality of what’s facing children and the lack of a holistic response is a national scandal.
“We need a faster roll-out of mental health support teams in schools alongside early support hubs in every local community and there needs to be more support for children whose families are struggling to make ends meet with free school meals available to all children on Universal Credit.
“There is nowhere to hide from the ensuing wellbeing catastrophe unless urgent action is taken.”
The Children’s Society survey found children were happiest with their family, and least happy about school, with 14.2% feeling this way in 2022.
Children who said their family was not well off were less happy with school on average, while boys were happier with school than girls on average.
The environment was top of children’s concerns in 2022, with four in 10 children very or quite worried about it, followed by new illnesses/pandemics, crime, inequality and the refugee and migrant crisis.
A Government spokesperson said: “We are providing schools with £53.8 billion this year in core funding, which includes a cash increase of £4 billion, and continue to invest in children’s mental health and wellbeing support.
“Across Government we are also taking action to address cost pressures for families, including through the energy price guarantee, which will save a typical household an average of £1,000 a year on their energy bills. We will continue working closely with schools and the sector to address the pressures they face.”
Helping Children and Young People to Make Sense of Distressing News
As a global community, we have faced a turbulent few years, ruled chiefly by the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions it brought. Now as we enter Spring 2022, the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine has taken over media attention and national concern. We live in a time of constant news streams and updates. It’s hard not to be filled with uncertainty and heartache every time you switch on the television or look at your phone. While we are all struggling to cope with the news, it is especially concerning for children and young people.
To help you guide those in your care through this uncertain time, our online safety experts have created this support for parents, carers, teachers, and safeguarding professionals. You’ll find a synopsis of important terms and questions, as well as our top tips for helping children and young people cope with distressing news.
What is the Russian invasion of Ukraine?
On February 24, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his military forces to begin an invasion of neighbouring country Ukraine. This is an escalation of the Russo-Ukrainian war that began in 2014 after a pro-Russian president of Ukraine was removed from office and Russian soldiers seized Crimea.
Since the invasion, there has been worldwide condemnation of Putin and his supporters. Protests have spread across the world (with protests in Russia resulting in arrest from police forces) as international support for Ukraine grows. Heavy sanctions(penalties to trade, sporting, and economic goods that are put in place by international leaders to try and pressure other leaders to a conduct agreement) have triggered a financial crisis in Russia, which has led Putin to put Russia’s nuclear forces on ‘high alert’ and has increased global fears of a nuclear war. Over 2 million Ukrainian citizens have fled their country. Thousands are suspected dead, with estimates expected to be higher. Many are trapped without access to necessities or medical aid. Recently, a maternity and children’s hospital was hit by a Russian airstrike resulting in multiple injuries and casualties.
Live reports are coming in every few minutes. Major news networks have constant news updates available for the public to see, despite difficulties in confirming news reports. However, the news is not the only avenue reports are appearing on. Social media is full of harrowing imagery and stories to encourage global support of Ukraine. While this is done to raise awareness of the atrocities happening in Ukraine, some of this content is extremely distressing. It’s worth nothing that if a child or young person engages with these posts on social media, the algorithms in place on these platforms will show them more.
How children react to distressing world events
While the recent news is upsetting and worrying for everyone, it is not the first disruptive event to affect the children and young people in your care. They have spent over two years adapting to a pandemic. They have endured lockdowns being isolated from their friends and family. They may even have lost loved ones during this time. Experts have warned that these events alone would have a significant impact on the mental wellbeing of children and young people going forward. If someone in your care is struggling, they might be:
Fixated, spending more time on phones or tablets to stay ‘up to date’.
Anxious, especially about future plans or dreams.
Irritable, over-reacting to minor inconveniences or issues.
Withdrawn, not engaging with their friends, school, or extracurriculars.
Distracted, with disruptions to regular eating, sleeping, or personal hygiene habits.
Obsessive, thinking over every circumstance and talking about possible outcomes.
Pessimistic, sharing a more negative or hopeless outlook on life.
Why is it important to talk to children and young people about what’s happening?
Children and young people are naturally curious. They want to know about what is going on in the world as much as they want to know the latest TikTok trend. Even if you try to limit the content they consume, they will inevitably hear about big world events from various outlets, such as television, social media, friends, family, and school environments. They might even overhear something from one of your conversations! If it’s what everyone is talking about, their interest in the topic increases.
This wide variety of sources makes it difficult to validate information and know what content the young person in your care is viewing. If you don’t acknowledge any questions or concerns they may have, they could ‘fill in the gaps’ with the wrong information. This might cause further anxiety, ignorance, or worrisome behaviour. Educating those in your care yourself is important to assure they know how to process news reports on their own with critical thinking and media literacy skills.
Some children may be curious, but not worried. Others may be uninterested in what is happening. Whether your child asks you about it or you bring it into conversation, remember to stay calm, listen to them, and reassure them that you are there if they need support or further guidance.
Top Tips for how to talk to children and young people about war
Every child is different. Their ability to process information will depend on their age, character, and resilience. As their guardian, you have to decide how much you share. You will know them best, but assessing their abilities can help you choose the level of information you share with them. For example, if you are a parent or carer of a young child who is prone to anxiety, start off with simple statements about the event while continually reassuring your child that they are safe and you are here for them. It’s important to:
Acknowledge their concerns. Don’t deny what is happening or negate their worries by telling them it will ‘all blow over soon’. Instead, tell them their concern is completely understandable and that you want to discuss it with them.
Be honest. While it is up to you as their guardian to protect them, it’s important that you refrain from lying in your responses or ignoring any questions or thoughts your child has. It’s okay if you don’t know the answer. This allows you to open up a discussion with your child. You could even suggest seeking the answer together!
Ask them how they are getting their news. Having a discussion around trustworthy news sources and how difficult it is to confirm things during times of conflict might be helpful. Holding yourself to this standard is important as well! Be mindful of any news playing in your house and how you are conducting your own conversations.
Validate their feelings. It is likely these emotions are complex and confusing for them to deal with. Remind them that, in this situation, feelings like this are normal.
Listen to them. No matter how worried or anxious you are, they will look to you for reassurance. Set your feelings aside and give the young person in your care the attention and space they need to feel heard.
Encourage them to limit their news intake. If they feel they are unable to look away from their phone or if they see something upsetting on their tablet, suggest they switch it off. If this isn’t realistic, advise them to only check news sources 1-2 times per day.
Discuss what you are grateful for as a family. This could be around the dinner table or during morning drives to school. If a young person in your care seems to struggle with guilt, remind them that they have nothing to feel guilty about – just things to be thankful for! Suggest researching places that are taking in donations to bring to refugees or other ways to help the crisis in a local capacity.
Use your words and actions to support them.Your reactions to their reactions are key to helping those in your care feel protected and loved. Tell your child you love them. Give them hugs or hold their hand. Allow them space when they need it, but remind them that you are here for them.
We know it can be difficult to decide what to share and how to respond. Remember – it’s important to remain calm, open, and honest with those in your care regardless of their age. Below, you’ll find some examples of questions you may receive about the recent Russian invasion of Ukraine. Our online safety experts have crafted some examples of appropriate answers to help you frame what you would like to say.
‘I found out my son was dealing drugs, with my middle class mum friends buying cocaine off boys just like him’
The boy bringing cocaine to the door of Lucy’s* friend looked really young.
“Thanks for your business,” he’d said as drugs and money were exchanged.
It was painful for her to witness.
Not long before she’d discovered her own son had been selling drugs, couriering them to addresses just like this child.
He’d been terrified, trapped in dangerous and illegal work by the older boys who’d recruited him.
“Seeing how young he was and knowing what my son had been through I was making the link between the two,” she told MyLondon.
“My friend’s children are much younger. She’d not made the connection that this young guy here was her son in just a few years’ time.”
Upset, Lucy challenged her friend about funding such an operation, highlighting the boy’s age. But her friend batted it away.
“They’re all really young,” she had replied.
Later that same day, Lucy encountered another acquaintance who was going through some personal turmoil and had been up all night.
“I’m dying for some coke,” she told her in between showing adorable pictures of her children to the other women there.
These events took place, not in a deprived area where drug users are a visible presence, but in a wealthy neighbourhood in West London with clean streets and expensive houses.
The women Lucy described as taking cocaine regularly are part of respectable circles of middle-aged professionals, who blend easily into London’s upmarket coffee shops and artisan bakeries.
They are also a group who totally disconnects their drug use from the trade which is destroying poorer areas of the city and fuelling violence across the capital.
This is the story of how one family was caught in the middle of a West London drugs line with eyes on both the exploited and the customers they serve.
How it started
Lucy’s son was 14 when she noticed he started to change.
“He had eyes like saucers,” she said. “He was aggressive, going out late and not letting me know where he was going. At one point he punched a hole in his bedroom wall.”
There was a lot going on in the family’s life at that time and he was a teenager she reasoned it would be understandable for him to be acting out.
She knew he had been scared of gang activity in the area for while, he was acutely aware of the evidence of the violence it provoked.
“He was constantly worried about blood on the streets and I’m not using that as a metaphor, literally blood on the streets.
“As we’d be walking you’d see blood and say ‘oh, there was a stabbing last night.’”
The multiple forms of modern communication Lucy’s son used to talk with his friends meant he often had details about the crime before they were public too.
“They’ve all got their WhatsApp and TikTok groups and they’re sharing information among themselves,” she added. “They know which gang was involved, who got attacked and if someone’s been arrested.
“So they were hearing the news from their peer group before it even got into the papers.”
The fear was so great there were times that he didn’t want to go to places alone. When that suddenly stopped and he was meeting with friends, there was no reason to think anything was amiss.
One of the first clear signs that her son was getting mixed up in something darker was when he began bringing boys to his house that he seemed to be afraid of.
“I kind of keep an open house,” she continued. “My kids can always bring their friends back. But these boys that he was bringing weren’t like his usual friends.
“They were really monosyllabic and they just brought out an atmosphere with them into the house.
“They’d crash out in the living room and I’d come down in the morning and say isn’t it time they went home, my son would be kind of reluctant to speak to them or ask them to go.”
The boys would smoke inside and generally acted like they owned the place, when it came to Lucy having to kick them out even she felt intimidated.
Another strange thing she noticed was that people would appear outside the house late at night, her son would rush out and hand them something, before going back inside.
When she challenged him about it he said it was just a friend dropping something off.
Then there was the money.
“He suddenly had stack-loads of money,” she continued. “I mean, a 14-year-old kid with £50 notes? That wasn’t pocket money.”
Lucy’s suspicions were confirmed when her partner at the time overheard her son talking with a friend about taking and dealing drugs.
When she confronted him about it the façade he’d been maintaining for months collapsed.
“He went from being kind of a cocky 14-year-old saying ‘you don’t know what you’re talking about mum’ to actually really breaking down, sobbing and saying how he was really scared,” she said.
“When you’re 14 or 15, you’re kind of very grown-up and, at the same time, you’re still a child. He desperately wanted to be tough, but he desperately wanted help.”
Once the silence had been broken Lucy’s son was then able to explain how he’d ended up becoming involved.
Like so many others it started with him being the victim of crime.
How it happened
He was first targeted playing football with friends one evening after school.
“He’d been approached by older boys and they threatened him,” she explained. “He got his phone got stolen at knifepoint and then he was really scared.
“He was frightened to report it to the police, although we eventually did. He then became very scared of gangs.”
Lucy’s son was so afraid he believed he must join one otherwise he wouldn’t be protected.
The frightening thing was that the gateway to that involvement was not necessarily through the strangers that threatened him, it was via longstanding friendships with people she’d known since they were little.
“His friends had started to get involved and friends from his childhood,” she added. “It became almost like the normal thing to do, for him and that age group. And it was cool.”
Although it was better her son had come clean about what was going on, it didn’t make the reality of the situation any less terrifying for Lucy.
The thought of trying to get her son out made her worry about the safety of the whole family.
“We were scared,” she said. “Our house was suddenly potentially on the radar for a whole load of really dodgy people. My other children were also being put at risk.”
So like most people would in this situation, Lucy turned to the authorities for help.
She reached out to a police officer acquaintance because she knew the idea of going directly to the force was terrifying for her son.
But the response she got disturbed her.
“Well, the police will already know,” he told Lucy. “They’ll already know everything about it and have his photo on the wall if he’s involved in cycling around making drops.”
The idea that the police were aware of children acting as couriers for drug dealers and not acting to help was horrifying. But Lucy was somehow not surprised.
“I don’t think anyone in London can deny there’s a bit of a problem with police,” she added with a sigh.
Eventually, she sent her son away to live in a different place altogether, because there was no way out by staying in London.
MyLondon has contacted the Metropolitan Police about its approach to tackling teenage drug dealing and was awaiting a response at the time of publication.
But child dealers were not the only set of drug sellers not being stopped.
Her son’s case has made her more conscious of another group who are able to act with relative impunity because they are middle-aged well-dressed women who no one suspects are selling narcotics.
‘A cocaine-fuelled 50th’
When a friend asked if she could have a 50th birthday at her house Lucy thought nothing of it.
She’d had her own party not that long before and it had been a lot of fun, boozy, but hardly debauched.
On the surface the people who came all held respectable careers. But she soon discovered what bound the middle-aged group together was something more illicit.
“One woman was a marketing director, there were bankers, plumbers, builders and teachers,” she explained. “But the thing that seemed to unite most of them, the real hardcore group, was cocaine.”
Lucy felt naïve to have allowed her to have a party at her house, she eventually ended up shutting things down and kicking them out.
It was the next day she made a disturbing discovery.
“I found a bag which had just a roll of cash in it,” she said. “So I texted her immediately and said, ‘I don’t know whose money it is or what it’s doing here, but it’s nothing to do with me.’
“I just wanted to distance myself, but when you’re in a situation like that what do you do? Call the police? And then they come to my house.”
After that incident, Lucy completely cut off contact with the woman in question.
When she asked why she didn’t want to see her anymore, she told her straight.
“I’m not a dealer, how insulting,” the woman replied.
“You’re selling drugs, that’s dealing that’s what it’s called,” Lucy repeated, but the woman was convinced the term didn’t apply to her.
‘Do you want any class As?’
It was after another party with so-called respectable professionals that Lucy was offered drugs.
“In the summer I went to a party,” she continued.
“It was a bunch of women, academics and journalists and who’ve known each other for years, a lot of us were at university together and we’re all mums.”
Another old friend turned up who she began to suspect might have been under the influence of something stronger than alcohol.
“She didn’t offer anything around that night, but you had a sense that she was [on something],” she said.
“Then two days later, she rang me up and asked me if I wanted any class As.”
“She is a tiny little blonde women who is beautifully dressed and no one would suspect is selling.”
‘Please don’t offer my kids hash’
Lucy pointed out that there is a misconception that as people enter middle age their behaviour suddenly snaps into a conventional stereotype.
Generation X might be in their 40s and 50s, but that doesn’t mean that they’ve cut out the drugs they were doing in the 1990s and 2000s.
If anything they have more funds than they did in their youth to buy drugs that were previously out of their price range.
“People who got into it, quite a lot of them haven’t stopped,” she continued.
“A lot did it in their youth and they’ve continued to take drugs.”
She wonders how they would respond to dealing with the situation she has with her son.
“What do you do if your kids then start selling? Or if your kids start using, if you’re using?” she wondered.
Some parents even go further, attempting to share their drug habits with their children directly.
Lucy has even had to tell friends directly not to offer her children cannabis.
“There’s a line between being a parent and being a cool hipster,” she added.
“You’ve got to grow up when you’re a parent, you can’t be doing all of that stuff. You’ve got to stop.”
‘The perfect customers’
A former drug dealer who MyLondon spoke to for this story said the clientele Lucy’s son and his friends were serving were the “ideal customers”.
“Everyone wants to get them,” they said. “Because no one suspects that they’ll be using drugs.
“I used to have a guy who ran a media company, he’d turn up in a nice car and always bought large amounts of cocaine for a lot of money.
“Coke is a rich person’s drug, it’s easy to deal with the people buying it because they don’t bring the heat on you, they don’t have a criminal record and won’t be being followed by police.”
They explained that the interactions between buyer and dealer were far easier to hide compared to stereotypical users.
“If the police were to come by when you were selling to them they wouldn’t think anything of it,” they added.
“But when you’re dealing with scraggily-looking crackheads and you’re a person of colour it’s very obvious what’s going on.
“The police will also follow those types of users to see where they are going and who they are buying from.”
He added that wealthy cocaine users were particularly common in West London and the dealers serving them often had lots more money than sellers in other parts of the city.
Middle-class drug users were the target of a double-pronged attack by Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Home Secretary Priti Patel in October.
First Patel announced that the government planned new measures that targeted so-called ‘lifestyle’ users whose numbers were found on dealers’ phones.
“We [will] bring down the harshest possible legal sanctions and consequences for these drug users,” the Home Secretary said.
“Including criminal sanctions, fines, curfews, compulsory drug awareness courses and the removal of their passports.”
This was followed up by the Prime Minister specifically linking the violence in urban areas to the drugs trade which serves more affluent parts of the country.
“We are looking at doing things to tackle those so-called lifestyle drug users who don’t think they are part of the problem. In the end, all the demand is helping to create the problem,” he said at a speech in Liverpool.
Currently, the plans laid out by Patel and Johnson suggest that they will be able to target these users when seizing phones owned by dealers.
The problem is that relies on the luck of landing a device filled with such contacts or incriminating material.
As most people in the trade know, a canny dealer will continue to change numbers and drug lines operate using multiple handsets.
A ‘West London county line’
Wealthy West London users might not have to beg, hustle or steal for their next fix, but that doesn’t mean they are not as wedded in the criminal networks that supply their drugs.
If anything their money makes the machine even better equipped to elude the authorities and further up the chain fill the pockets of organised crime.
It took Lucy aback just how easily her friend was able to summon a teenage drug dealer with cocaine to her door.
“It was like Deliveroo,” Lucy said. “It was as easy as ordering an Uber Eats.”
The process worked the same as a ‘county line,’ using the right code words, her friend navigated her way through several phone calls, dialling one and being be redirected to another until eventually the order was placed.
It’s a method associated with the trade in rural locations, but rather than serving a rural location, this ‘city line’ for rich people in west London.
For Lucy, the knowledge of how any of this worked showed a connection between her friend and the criminal network that was more than “casual”.
“If you actually have the number and you have the code word, next to your Pizza Express delivery, That’s quite a level of being involved,” she added.https://get-latest.convrse.media/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.mylondon.news%2Fnews%2Fwest-london-news%2Fi-found-out-son-dealing-22885910%3Futm_source%3Dtwitter.com%26utm_medium%3Dsocial%26utm_campaign%3Dsharebar%26s%3D09&cre=bottom&cip=140&view=web
There might be superficial differences between the ‘scraggily crackhead’ and the wealthy user.
But the only real one that matters is that at the moment the middle-class drug taker gets away with it.
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