Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Reducing crime through the early years collaborative

Published on 6 Feb 2015

Karyn McCluskey, Director of the Scottish Violence Reduction Unit, (also member of the World Health Organisation) speaks about how to sustain a fall in violent crime over the long term at the International Crime and Policing Conference 2015.

Referring to the 40 year drop in violent crime, she says: "I`ve sat in lots of lectures and I have to say sometimes I`m none the wiser about why it`s happening."

She goes on: "When you consider some of the complexity that we`re dealing with ... you know child sexual abuse ...lots of the online stuff, addiction, violence, domestic violence - sometimes our organisation and processes can seem quite feeble to try and deal with them."

That is a rather dramatic way of putting it because the only new thing really is the `online stuff` where no great effort is made to reduce the child abuse images but a lot of time is spent policing everybody`s browsing habits. So much for prevention.

Regardless, she explains: "Our response, when we`re trying to tackle these new things is sometimes to reorganise to tackle the challenge, often with the same people... Just in relation to violence... our violence has completely changed. Our violence now, our murders now, happen inside houses. We need to think completely differently about how we tackle it...We need good research. We need ideas about what to do next."

You can see where this is going. Getting inside people`s houses might seem like a good idea.

"I had been twenty years in policing ... and I realise if we are to truly change things and create a fairer society we had to envision a new future that wasn`t about tougher policing because we had done that - because I can tell you this is Strathclyde Police - I mean they were just bears... It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction and that`s not my quote and I`m no genius but when we were dealing with the complexity of violence we had to try and do something quite different."

"So we had to change the framework. So we changed it in terms of public health."
"And we started to talk about violence as a disease... it`s as toxic and virulent as any disease that we have. And we started to talk about characteristics in relation to exposure. Susceptibility: what`s the incubation period ? Dose-response relationships: how much do you need to be exposed to before you actually start to exhibit some of the symptoms? We can look at transmission, how you catch it - make no mistake, if we don`t stop domestic violence we cannot stop violence. It is the most toxic thing we deal with now. And we started to talk about clustering: why it happens in certain areas in epidemic waves. Now we seem to have volume. When I started to look at the gangs, we had three and a half thousand before I stopped counting. So we had serious volume and public health gave us a framework to try and engage everybody: a whole societal approach that says we want to change the country and we want to move it that way..."

"And then along came Harry Burns who was the chief medical officer for Scotland who came along with the science bit actually after we just put in the frippery. And Harry started to talk about why Scots die young in Scotland... But what Harry found was really interesting. Harry started to look at why people died and he realised that it was to do with was raised cortisol - you know the stress hormone - this is the science bit. When you`re living in a stressful situation - imagine a domestically violent situation - your dad comes in one day and he batters you , or there might be no food in the fridge or you`re loved and it`s inconsistent. And he started to look at the release of the stress hormones and what he found was that that caused an inflammatory response caused by a protein which lays down fat in your arteries and what he found was that violence makes you physically ill. So it is a health problem."

"That`s why so many of the people and the young people we`re dealing with have chronic health problems later on..."

"So it sort of brings me on to primary prevention, the whole notion of early intervention ... Get it right in the first 33 months of a child`s life, the outcome is much much better. ... I`m a huge advocate of early years and I always tell people this because when I started to talk about early years as a way to stop violence and murder the Herald had, Karyn McCluskey needs to get back to the kitchen and start baking scones..."

"One of the ladies I was talking to earlier on comes from Finland and prior to the referendum in Scotland ...I did a think tank talk and it was called I want to be a bit more like Finland which you can imagine did not go down very well with Mr Salmond. Now I`m not overly keen on Finland I`m sorry to say. The last time I was there they fed me reindeer but can I tell you they do something spectacular and in the UK we should be looking at Finland because Finland does not give parents a choice where they go to school; they just go to school in the local area and it`s not a command it`s just what you do and in fact the first real exam that Finnish students have is at metriculation when they are about 16 years old... You don`t really learn to read or write until you`re seven. What they do is invest in pedagogues who support the children in early years until the age of eight and there are 84,000 of them in Finland. They`re really well paid, half of them are men, and they go into the family home and they support that child in the family and it is absolutely spectacular."

"Finnish teachers aren`t actually told about educational outcomes. Their raison d`etre [is to] turn out the best equipped kids to meet the needs of the nation; so that`s communication skills, problem solving skills, team working skills - all the skills that help get us through life without bumping into alcohol, drugs, violence. But you know what the overall outcome is?  To turn out the best educated kids in the world. They are constantly at the top of the OECD Pisa study. Now, they do drink a lot; it is a bit dark, but can I tell you, we should be looking at Finland?"

"In Scotland we`ve got the Early Years Collaborative - I actually sit in all the boards. I spend a lot of time in nurseries which is strange because I`m in the police but it is absolutely fascinating ... If you were really brave would you not have a thousand extra health visitors, if you really wanted long term prevention, if you really wanted to tackle those troubled families ... ?"


The Violence Reduction Unit was started in 2005 and cannot explain the 40 year drop in violent crime. Also the concept of troubled families has been well and truly contested.

So here we have the joined up approach in action where the police share the same kind of stories as health, education and social services. Get it right in the first 33 months - early intervention - and that sorts out all social ills. As they go about their conferences and think tanks retelling the same myths about the early years, it is easy to imagine that they begin to believe their own reality.
Note that the Finnish language is so consistent that it is much easier for children to pick up; the English language is more complex. As far as the Pisa test goes, all that the evidence shows is that Finland prepares 15 year old kids well for the Pisa test. In itself, that does not say much about education systems as a whole.

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