With funding from The Nationwide Foundation, three Third Sector agencies came together to commission this film, Safer Wales Ltd, Construction Youth Trust and Addaction. We all work intensively with young people who are either offenders or at risk of offending, to break the cycles of vulnerabilities, and prevent re-offending.
Frustration with External Factors
We have become, over the past 15 years or so, increasingly frustrated with the external factors which work against us and the young people themselves. In particular with how they are viewed, and treated, both within the criminal justice system, and also to some extent in schools, or in the care system, and in particular by the media, which we feel has a lot to answer for in perpetuating stereotypes and demonising young people, lessening their chances of exiting from the dire circumstances some of them find themselves in.
Wake Up Call – we need a Cross-Party Solution
We want the film, to be a wake-up call – to politicians, colleagues in the Third, Public and Private sectors who work in this field, and to the media. We want to ask you to join this coalition to develop and commit to a realistic and practical way forward on youth justice; and reject a system in which young people and crime are used as pawns to sell papers or to attract votes.
We want all of our politicians to work on a cross-party solution, and deal with the issue with proper long term planning, policy and delivery, and evaluation over a longer period.
Young people are entering the criminal justice system at younger and younger ages. We need to be asking the question why? Where are we failing them so badly that no one seems to be picking up the signs early enough to prevent this?
“Somewhere to go and something to do”
Consultation with young people who are “hanging around” on the streets, consistently shows the same result. They want somewhere to go, and something to do. It’s not rocket science. Too often, the same level of short-sightedness results in money being spent on practical measures that can end up alienating the young people even more – costly resources such as CCTV cameras and alley-gating schemes, please the electorate and meet short term community safety targets, whilst longer term or more creative solutions like more detached youth services and facilities, or, for example, the community (weekend, evening and school holiday) use of schools, are often talked about, but not delivered.
“All I wanted was an adult to talk to......................”
Many agencies in the Third Sector, including Safer Wales, find themselves delivering programmes to prevent “re-offending”, and we know that mentoring or other support schemes, and other interventions – if they are engaged with on a voluntary basis and occur at the right time – can make a huge difference to offending or reoffending behaviour. But the question we should be asking ourselves is why do these schemes need to exist? – Why are these young people getting into offending behaviour in the first place? – How is it that we have not effectively tackled and managed risk factors and vulnerabilities evidenced over 10 years ago - what have we really done to tackle poor literacy, poor parenting, low educational achievement, mental health issues, child abuse and plain old poverty?
Short-termist thinking doesn’t work...
The answer is that much has been done – but most of it in short term bursts, measured over 2 – 3 years. Partly this is because much new work is done with grant funding, which has a shelf life of 3 years at best. Partly, it is to do with performance reporting within agencies and with grant funders; targets (again annual or 2 – 3 year at most, coinciding with the electoral cycles), often related to what both local and national politicians want to demonstrate they have done on crime and disorder, to the electorate. It is also partly to do with the fact that some local CJS partners (the police and the CPS for example) may have centrally set annual targets which pro-actively ensure that more incidents are recorded and more young people are charged, and so, whilst they are all members of crime and disorder partnerships or other statutory partnerships, such as those which concern children and young people, they are constrained in their action, and there is no incentive to undertake things in a different fashion.
These things reflect the fact that no guidance over the past 30 years has taken into account the basic fact that if you want to prevent youth offending, you have to analyse plan and evaluate in a continuous process, long term, at least for a 5 – 10 year period. For example a literacy or vocational skill initiative which is undertaken in one year may support more 13 year olds to stay in school, which could impact on youth offending figures in 5 years time. Practically speaking this is about the years in which a young person may be most vulnerable to criminality – age 10 –20. The wider picture, tackling poverty and poor parenting, health issues etc – starts in early years and could go right through to age 25.
Join the coalition...
We want national and local politicians to work with us on these issues, and not put obstacles in the way; we want national and local media to stop stereotyping and demonising young people.
We need to act on this issue – TOGETHER and NOW – I appeal to my colleagues in the Third sector and elsewhere – sign up to the Coalition, and let’s start getting this right. We are delighted that so many organisations have already signed up to the coalition and hope many more will do the same.
Barbara Natasegara MBE
Safer Wales Ltd