Under supported when under scrutiny

14 Apr 2013

If there was an award for most ironic understatement of the month, it would certainly go to Ann Barnes, the Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent. In response to her appointment of Paris Brown as youth police tsar for the area, she said "my appointment of a Youth PCC has certainly caused quite a stir!" in a statement on Twitter.
Indeed it did, particularly when it was discovered that she had tweeted racist and homophobic comments, not to mention violence and generally bigotry. These were tweets she wrote when she was fourteen years old, and was expected to account for them years later when, presumably, she had got back on her feet.


I work on the principle that you should never tweet anything that you wouldn't stick on your front door or shout from a megaphone in the town centre, something which I have always told young people who take office. There is nothing on my twitter account which I would come to regret, but, admittedly, not everyone has that mentality.

At the time of her appointment, many within the media questioned whether a seventeen year old should be thrust into public office, others wondered if it was a sensible use of taxpayers’ money. I'm sceptical about whether a £15,000 a year role is appropriate and meaningful youth engagement in the running of the police; young people's views are important, but there are better ways of getting them.

In my role as a Member of Youth Parliament I don't get paid, and I certainly don't get my own car and desk as the Youth Police and Crime Commissioner did. I'm not a politician of sort; my work is for the community and I prefer it that way. It means we get real people who want to make a difference putting themselves forward to become MYPs. That is not to say, however, that it is tokenistic - in fact, youth voice has more value if done on a voluntary basis.

My worry is that the problems of Paris Brown could give some the impression that young people are not fit to hold public office, whereas, in reality, the individual in question should never have been given a job which should never have existed in the first place. It simply wasn't right for her. In stark contrast, across the county we have not just MYPs, but also youth councillors, young majors as well as 'ordinary' activists who simply want to make a positive difference to where they live.

There are many people who are lining up to criticise Paris Brown, whilst reactionary newspaper columnists are, no doubt, writing their 'I told you so' articles. There is another perspective to consider, which genuinely made me question my own views.

In a press release by the Office of the Children's Commissioner - for whom I am an advisor - I read a quote which follows: "It is important, a right under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, that young people are protected from harm. Where they are appointed to potentially high profile posts consideration must be given to providing them with proper support to help them to fulfil their roles."

After all, did anyone tell Paris Brown to delete any inappropriate tweets that she might have? No. She wasn't given proper training for the role, or sufficiently briefed for the media attention she would receive - that is, both in being appointed to the role, and in case of any problems encountered.

Perhaps it wasn't entirely her fault; this problem is as a result of a catalogue of very unfortunate failures. It has caused many to lose faith in young people, but let us also not forget the damage done to a young woman who is going to have such a public shaming following her around for the rest of her life.

By Jake Pitt

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