Initiatives tackling youth crime have had something of a
chequered history of late. Ranging from complete flops, such as the
curfew for under-10s, to the storming success of the youth
inclusion programme, the problem posed by juvenile criminals has
been addressed from a number of angles.
Whether any have actually stopped young people offending is
difficult to say, as changes in the use of informal cautioning
render meaningless Home Office claims of falling conviction
Nevertheless the government has been quick to herald the success of
initiatives such as the parenting order, designed to offer support
to parents whose children have been involved in offending,
antisocial behaviour or truancy.
Home Office minister Hilary Benn recently announced that parenting
orders would be extended after early figures showed they resulted
in a reduction in conviction rates.
Elsewhere Home Office minister John Denham was singing the praises
of the final warning scheme which, he claimed, had contributed
significantly to a drop in re-offending rates.
“In Devon alone, the use of interventions in 96 per cent of
final warnings has delivered a 22 per cent reduction in youth crime
between June and September 2002,” Denham said. “That is
500 fewer crimes suffered by the people of Devon.”
But the jewel in the crown of youth crime initiatives remains youth
inclusion programmes, 70 per cent of which have resulted in
reductions in overall crime, claims the Youth Justice Board.
According to recent YJB figures, between January and March 2002
crime in YIP areas dropped by up to 40 per cent and the arrest
rates of young people on the programmes fell by 74 per cent.
Introduced two years ago, there are now 70 YIPs running throughout
England and Wales. Each receives £75,000 of grant funding
which they are expected to match from other local or national
Designed to target young people between the age of 13 and 16, the
programmes receive information from agencies such as the police,
schools and social services on young people in their area who are
deemed to be at risk of becoming involved in crime. The YIPs then
use this information to rank the 50 young people considered at
highest risk. These top 50 are then invited to join the
Once on the programme the youngsters can make use of a range of
services including family link centres based in schools, language
support for ethnic minority students, literacy and numeracy
training and after-school homework clubs.
Many YIPs have set up skill centres that provide excluded young
people with training and qualifications to improve their
educational standards and future employment prospects. There are
mentoring schemes and a variety of sports activities, environmental
projects and support services for parents and carers.
YIPs are also run in parallel with the Splash programme which
provides a wide range of activities for all young people in various
localities (not just the top 50) during the school holidays.
Such has been the success of the YIP scheme that Youth Justice
Board chief Lord Warner recently announced that it will soon be
extended to include children as young as eight.
Ten new youth inclusion and support panels will be piloted over the
next six months each targeting eight to 13-year-olds in areas with
the highest levels of street crime.
The panels, made up of a range of specialists including the staff
of youth offending teams, police officers, schools, health and
social services, will identify young children considered to be at
risk of offending due to problems such as drug misuse, mental
illness, family troubles or antisocial behaviour.
The children and their families will be invited to attend a
voluntary meeting of the panel which will be able to direct them
into mainstream services and provide key workers to offer dedicated
help to those who most need it.
However, not everyone is happy about the idea of labelling
eight-year-olds as possible future criminals. According to Sharon
Moore, principal policy and practice manager of the
Children’s Society, the move is tantamount to lowering the
age of criminal responsibility.
In October the United Nations heavily criticised the UK for
labelling 10-year-old children as criminals, Moore says, adding:
“Yet today we hear that the criminal justice system will deal
with even younger children.
“The Children’s Society welcomes the idea of support
being given to children identified as ‘at risk’ of
offending,” Moore says, “but we are deeply concerned
that plans for crime prevention panels could lead to the age of
criminal responsibility being lowered through the back
The Children’s Society is calling for a major review of the
way the UK tackles children’s involvement in crime. Moore
says: “We do not believe that panels led by youth offending
teams are the answer. Children of this age must be recognised as
children first and foremost. To label them as potential criminals
at the age of eight is completely inappropriate.”
However, Lord Warner denies that the new panels will stigmatise
Speaking recently [October 2002] at the Association of Chief Police
Officers’ youth justice conference in Bristol, he claimed the
new initiative was “not about labelling young people but
He told the conference: “These young people by definition
will be well known to the relevant agencies already in one form or
another. The panels will be about intervening early so that as they
grow up these young people are no longer labelled by their
community or the agencies as problem children.
“It is my experience that many families would welcome support
with their children if only it was available at an earlier stage
and before problems escalate,” Warner said.
Switched on programme
Middleton youth inclusion programme in Leeds has had its
successes, but challenges remain, particularly in joint working
with education services.
A recent incident on the Middleton estate in south Leeds
illustrates how much progress has been made in the two years the
youth inclusion programme has been in operation.
A parent approached YIP manager Keith Mack, concerned about his
son’s involvement in car crime.
“He said his lad had been in a stolen car and he wasn’t
happy about it, so he asked me to have a word.”
Mack went off in search of the errant youth and found him, together
with six others included in the YIP’s top 50, still in
possession of the stolen car.
“I said to them, ‘Look lads, I’m going to have to
tell the police about the car. But I’m not going to tell them
your names. So if you go down to the skills centre I’ll see
if we can get something sorted out’.”
A few telephone calls later and the police had been informed about
the car and the youths were either back in school or playing pool
in the skills centre having spoken to their mentors.
“The police were happy because they knew where to find the
car and could question the neighbours about who was involved. But
the boys knew that I hadn’t informed on them, so the trust
was still there.”
This kind of street credibility combined with parental respect and
official recognition is a far cry from the early days when
Mack’s attempts to set up the programme were met with
suspicion from all sides.
“When we first arrived it was very difficult to engage with
the young people. There was a lot of ‘who are you? why are
you contacting me?’” he says.
Now into its third year, the programme has steadily built up
respect by working within the local community. Run from the skills
centre located on the estate itself, the staff comprises Mack, an
administration assistant and a project worker.
Of around 500 children aged 13 to 16 in the YIP catchment area, 180
have been referred at one time or another.
Information on these young people is constantly assessed and, every
six months or so, a list drawn up of the 50 considered to be at
most risk. Those in the top 50 are then invited to join the
The YIP team aims to build lasting relationships with the targeted
young people and co-ordinate the services provided by other
“We can go to a young person’s house and get a better
response than a social worker might,” says Mack “We can
then act as a go-between between the young person and the
The YIP also provides a number of services and activities aimed
both at keeping young people out of trouble and at improving their
“We try to make the activities fun but with an educational
element to them,” says Mack.
“For instance we’ve just done a cooking competition
based on Ready, Steady, Cook. We gave the young people £5 and
told them to buy the ingredients for a meal and cook it. So
there’s a lot of skills there, like planning a budget,
working out a menu and so on.”
The programme also runs activities through the school holidays
funded by the government’s Splash initiative. One project
recently saw local young people joining forces with a group of
leading New York based graffiti artists to stage a major exhibition
of graffiti art in Leeds city centre.
Mack is enthusiastic about Splash schemes, but would like to see
the scheme extended to cover term times as well.
“At the moment they spend all summer involved in Splash
activities, then a week back into term and there’s nothing.
It would really be helpful if we could have Splash funding all year
The search for extra funds to support the programme’s various
initiatives takes up a vast amount of Mack’s time. It is not
helped by what he views as a lack of co-operation from some of the
other agencies involved with young people.
Mack is particularly scathing about the support offered by local
“The schools seem to regard us as a well-funded service
designed to take on their most disruptive pupils. But we
don’t have the budget to do that,” he says
Mack claims that pressures on schools to raise their A-C ratios
mean that mentoring programmes are targeted at those falling just
short of the grade. Those who will never reach this standard
“One of our schools has an excellent mentoring scheme and 38
of our top 50 go to that school. But when we asked how many are on
the mentoring programme, very few were. A lot of them are known to
the mentors but they say ‘we can’t mentor them because
they are never here’.”
At the same time directives to keep school exclusions to a minimum
mean that many low-achieving young people remain within the school
system but are put on severely restricted timetables.
“They are not excluded from the school but they are excluded
from the curriculum,” says Mack. “Of course, that way
the school keeps their funding.”
As a result Mack often finds himself picking up the pieces, having
to provide educational services that his budget cannot
“We only get £75,000 a year. Once you account for three
salaries, rent and admin costs there’s not a lot left to fund
services. Which is why I spend most of my time applying for
Rather than quoting government figures on crime reduction, Mack
gauges the success of Middleton YIP by the fact that local youths
are organising a football league and that their parents are
becoming increasingly willing to become involved.
However, he is fully aware that much more needs to be done.
“I’m totally committed to what we are doing here, but
we are just scratching the surface. If you want the cynical view
you could say the Youth Justice Board is really just dipping its
toe in. If we want to do more than that we will need more staff and