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The ‘red thread’ helping young people to find their way out of trauma

University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust (UHB) is taking part in a trial to support young victims of knife crime and other cases of serious assault. Youth workers from the charity Redthread aim to support young people to make positive changes in their lives at a moment of crisis and when they are removed from their usual influences.

The charity is named after the ball of red thread Ariadne gave Theseus to find his way out of the Minotaur’s labyrinth in Greek mythology; essentially the charity’s ethos is to give young people the tools to overcome challenges for themselves.

While clinical staff treat physical injuries, youth workers based in the Emergency Department (ED) help young victims when they are their most vulnerable, and work to disrupt the cycle of violence many young people find themselves in.

The Redthread Youth Violence Intervention programme started in King’s College Hospital London thirteen years ago and is now being rolled out to other parts of the country. Since Redthread started working with teams at UHB in August 2018, on average the team at Heartlands Hospital in Bordesley Green is receiving 18 referrals per week and the team at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Edgbaston is receiving 14 referrals per week.

Redthread workers aim to meet the victim of a serious assault as soon as they can; in the ED waiting room, on the ward, or sometimes in the resuscitation bay. Redthread describes this window of opportunity, when a young person is often alone and nursing a serious injury in an unfamiliar environment, as a ‘reachable’ and ‘teachable’ moment.

It is estimated that young people in that immediate moment in hospital are two to three times more likely to engage with professionals than when they leave it to return to their communities. The charity offers young people support to change their lives by listening to their concerns and offering practical help to address problems, such as help with housing, further education or liaising with probation officers. Sometimes it may be as basic as convincing the young person to stay in hospital and receive the treatment they need. David Hornsby, ED matron at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, comments:

Organisations such as Redthread that can intervene in these young people’s lives at a critical moment and give them an opportunity to change direction are a massive help. The youth worker can also make them aware of other opportunities, other directions, other locally available support networks, and get them on to a different track.

The three-year UHB pilot is taking place alongside a University of Nottingham research project to evaluate the impact of the service across the health, social and policing landscape in Nottingham and Birmingham. Alongside UHB, the Redthread charity has partnered with the West Midlands Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner to deliver this programme. Redthread has received funding from The Health Foundation, UK Home Office, Barrow Cadbury Trust, West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner to provide the service within Birmingham.

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