A MULTI-AGENCY approach to youth diversion and the promotion of pro-social behaviour has led to reductions in the levels of youth crime across the Highlands and Islands.
Despite a slight rise in the number of referrals to the children’s hearing system for some age groups on offending grounds (between 2006 and 2008) youth crime levels in the Highlands and Islands continue to be among the lowest in Scotland, per head of the population.
Northern Constabulary and its partners believe there is no room for complacency and have vowed to continue with their corporate approach to tackling the issues surrounding youth crime.
Youth diversion and inclusion is a key part of this approach and representatives from some of the agencies involved have spoken out jointly for the first time about the work they are doing to improve the wellbeing of youngsters across the region.
In 2006, as a result of this multi-agency approach, youth crime figures fell by more than 50% and although this will be difficult to sustain in the short term, this approach is designed to provide long term sustainability.
Northern Constabulary and its partners are involved in a number of initiatives aimed at diverting youths away from crime and ensuring their behaviour is pro-social not anti-social.
Only 2% of our children, aged 0-15, actually commit an offence and it should be noted that a small number of children commit a disproportionate number of crimes.
Head of Children's Services for NHS Highland and Highland Council Bill Alexander said: “The reduction in youth crime in Highland is an enormous success story – sustained since around 2006.
“We have indeed bucked the national trend, by sustaining massively reduced youth crime over the last few years, when much of Scotland has seen increased youth crime since 2000.
“We should be celebrating the hard work of staff in many agencies across Highland and also the good conduct of most of our young people. However, that does not mean we should be complacent about continuing youth crime – we certainly aren’t.”
He added: “We know there were significant changes in numbers of persistent offenders from 2006, which was a direct consequence of the creation of youth action teams and effective joint working.
“While we had 68 persistent young offenders at the end of 2004/05 (this means more than 5 referrals for any individual in a 6 month period – i.e. evidence of repeat behaviour) this reduced to 45 at the end of 2005/06, and only 7 at the end of 2006/07.
“The number was 9 when the Children’s Reporter stopped producing these figures (due to a change in Government thinking) in 2007/08.”
Northern Constabulary and its partners are working with youngsters on a number of initiatives in an attempt to maintain lower levels of youth offending, including Street Football, Twilight Basketball, Street Rugby, Bluelight Discos, Safe Highlanders, Operation Youth Advantage and Choices for Life.
Community Safety Minister Fergus Ewing visited Inverness recently and praised the work being done on Operation Youth Advantage. OYA gives youngsters on the periphery of crime or those who have an interest in Army life the chance to build team spirit and improve their social skills. (More information can be found on the Force’s website www.northern.police.uk).
Action for Children is also heavily involved in the multi-agency partnership and help the other agencies bring Street Football to a number of areas of the Force thanks to its portable five-a-side football pitch.
PC Rosanna MacSween, who is Northern Constabulary’s Youth Diversion Officer, said: "Northern Constabulary is working with a range of partners across the Highlands and Islands, and with other Forces and national agencies, to delivery a number of youth diversionary activities, in line with two of our strategic priorities of stronger, safer communities and reducing crime.
“This strong partnership working is reflected in initiatives such as Blue Light Discos, Street Sports, Operation Youth Advantage, Choices for Life and Safe Highlanders, together with educational DVDs on alcohol and vandalism.
“New initiatives such as Global Rock Challenge have already been identified and we will be looking to take these forward in due course. “
PC MacSween added: “We are realistic in recognising that success will not happen overnight but these measures are aimed at delivering long-term results and with the support of our communities we can achieve them.
“Northern Constabulary is committed to working with and for our young people, the majority of whom make a very positive contribution to our communities."
Scottish rugby is another important partner within the multi-agency set up and Brian Bell, the Scottish Rugby Union’s Regional development manager, said: “Scottish Rugby is investing its “Cashback for Communities,” funding to grow participation in rugby in key identified areas throughout all Scotland’s 32 local authorities.
“In order to target areas and socio economic groups not traditionally, or less exposed to rugby, Scottish Rugby will invest in growing and sustaining the network of jointly-funded rugby development officers.
“In the Highlands and Islands there is one such post at Highland RFC, however, a development officer post is currently being advertised for Orkney RFC thanks to funding a support from Orkney Islands Council, European Community Orkney LEADER 2007-2013 programme and Northern Constabulary.”
He added: “Through these posts, Scottish Rugby will be able to offer rugby opportunities in more primary and secondary schools, and with the assistance of volunteers take rugby into the heart of deprived areas through the new Street Rugby programme, an easy to learn non contact form of the game which can be played anywhere.”
Twilight Basketball was launched in Inverness on Friday 23 January 2009 by the charity Scottish Sports Futures (SSF) supported by the Scottish Government Cashback programme. SSF works in partnership with Northern Constabulary, Highland Council, Crimestoppers, Highland and Islands Fire and Rescue Service, Basketball Scotland and the Merkinch Partnership.
The Twilight Basketball scheme will be launched for the first time in the Hilton area at Inverness Royal Academy on Saturday 16 May 2009, between 6pm and 8pm. This will run in tandem with the scheme already running successfully at Inverness College on a Friday night between 6pm and 8pm. Anyone between the ages of 11 and 21 interested in playing basketball on either day should turn up at the venue closest to them.
Jamie Barr of SSF said: “Our experience of working in Inverness over the past three months has been a very positive one and we are delighted with the support we have received from a wide range of agencies and organisations that are committed to helping young people across the city.
“Their support has ensured the success of the Twilight programme where young people can have fun but also learn important lifestyle issues at the same time.”
The Highland Council’s Community Safety unit takes the lead in terms of the Safe Highlanders initiative, which is an excellent example of agencies working together to ensure young people from the Highlands are valued and kept safe.
It is an excellent opportunity for young people to develop their judgement, decision making and risk assessment. It also helps to build their confidence and raise their self esteem.Isabelle Kaminiarz from the Community Safety unit, said: “Safe Highlanders and Islanders is a Child Safety interactive learning experience aimed at Primary 7 pupils, allowing them to actively participate in a wide range of simulated practical situations which, in real life, would be potentially life threatening.
“It also serves to show them healthy living choices and highlight preventable crimes. Over 1500 P7 pupils attended this “once in a lifetime,” event in 2008, and resulted in very positive feedback from schools; this year there will be approximately 2,000 pupils attending.”
The agencies involved are: Red Cross, Northern Constabulary, British Transport Police, HIFRS, HM Coastguard, Health and Safety Executive and subjects include first aid, road/railway safety, water safety, farm safety, fire safety and construction safety. Messages surrounding these topics, as well as substance misuse prevention, are provided in a fun and interesting way.