THE police breaking down the front door to carry out a raid on their family home was the first alarming moment one mother knew her teenage son had got into trouble.
Barbara Miller is chairwoman of Mother’s Against Gangs, a voluntary group that was formed last year by hard-working mums, with the support of the police, to help steer youngsters away from crime and gang culture.
Like Barbara, many of those involved in the group have had personal experiences with family members involved in crime – mostly sons and brothers – and are using these experiences and collective knowledge to support families in detecting the early signs, dealing with the police, courts and other agencies, and in getting their loved ones back on the right track.
Barbara said: “As a mother of four children, I have had experiences which have been very upsetting and traumatic. I have had two forced entries into my house by the police – it’s not very nice, people in your neighbourhood seeing the police turn up like that.
“We hope to help mothers like myself. We are working with the police and the youth offending team to help the mothers of children who are in trouble, or are causing trouble.”
The volunteers have different backgrounds, creeds and communities but one shared aim – to create a safe and peaceful environment in which there is understanding, respect and harmony between the mothers of different cultures so that children do not become rivals.
Barbara added: “Some mums know that their children are getting into trouble on the streets and some don’t. The ones that don’t know, we try and help and give as much advice as possible. It is more of a shock for them when the police raid their homes because they do not realise that their children have been trouble.
“The ones that do know about their children being trouble, we try and advise them on how to restore authority and help them as much as we can.
“We have a much calmer attitude to the mothers and their children. We try not to be threatening and often there is a language barrier between families and the police, so we use our volunteers, executives and associates who speak different languages to help them calm down and help them to realise we are here to help.”
Mothers Against Gangs was formed in August last year and the committee meets fortnightly at the Wealdstone Youth Centre in High Street, Wealdstone.
The volunteers were keen to stress that the group was not set up in reaction to a stabbing or to a rise in gang crime in the borough – which police say is statistically one of the safest boroughs in London – but instead to work in a preventative way to help young people at risk.
Despite being in its infancy, the charity has several success stories already, such as one youth who was constantly receiving warnings from the police for crimes until Mothers Against Gangs stepped in and he joined up to the police cadets.
Another 14-year-old was involved in serious crime, including robbery, but after an intervention, it looks like he is turning his back on his old ways and has taken up sporting activities.
Vice chairwoman Hana Ali, a mother of two young children, became involved out of concern for her two brothers.
She said: “I feel passionately about taking part in Mothers Against Gangs because of my past experiences of growing up with my brothers who were getting involved in trouble. We had the police come to our house a lot for either one of my brothers. This made my mother feel completely helpless and vulnerable. It was a difficult and stressful situation.”
Hana speaks Somali which has proved very useful for communicating with the Somali community, such as when she helped a 14-year-old boy who was arrested in relation to theft and drugs offences.
She said he was not taking the police warnings seriously and had not informed his parents about the arrest, but would instead take a friend to the police station as an ‘appropriate adult’. Hana managed to track down his mother who said she had no idea her son in trouble.
Hana said: “We eventually helped her to go to the police meetings with her son and to enforce some authority. They are doing much better now.
“I explained to the mum that I didn’t want her to go through what I had to go through, with the police coming over to your house when you are completely oblivious to what is happening. It’s scary and not very nice.”
Harrow Association of Somali Voluntary Organisation (HASVO) youth worker, Yusuf Yusuf works very closely with Mothers Against Gangs.
He said: “It is really important to gain that trust from the parent. Often these youths are very young and they really respect their parents, so if you can work with both, then you are more likely to get a result.
“Sometimes it’s tough for youths, especially ones who cannot speak very good English. They get excluded from school and eventually kicked out, then they are on the streets with nothing to do. It goes downhill from there.”
Harrow Police has been supporting the group, including former borough commander Dal Babu who has remained involved since retiring, and the police often alert the group to a family who may need help as they may offer a softer approach to a sensitive subject.
PC Sonia Ong from the Youth Offending Team has also been working in partnership with the charity and she told the Observer: “Sometimes the youth might have a bad opinion of the police, they don’t always trust us or respect us.
“Working with their mothers is a great way of getting through to them and getting them to learn respect. And mums will trust a couple of mothers who have been in similar situations knocking at their front door rather than a group of uniformed police officers.”
Barbara said: “As parents ourselves, we believe if you can detect the signs early you may be able to prevent things from getting out of control. We wish to reassure the parent or young person.
“We know how traumatic the experience of attending police stations and courts can be for the whole family and how daunting it is because most people don’t know how the legal process works or what to expect. These can sometimes drag on for months and months and have a knock-on effect with schools, jobs, relationships, family and health.
“But we will work together for a positive present, and will seek to achieve a fulfilled future.”
n To find out more information on Mothers Against Gangs (MAG) see www.mothersagainstgangs.co.uk or call 07848 998 818.