Increase in Scots welfare referrals sparks fears over youth offending

A 10 per cent rise in the number of children referred to Scottish authorities on offence and welfare grounds has raised concerns of a subsequent increase in the number of young offenders.

The figures have led to calls for the Scottish executive to put more effort into tackling poverty and the causes of welfare problems, rather than into combating youth offending.

The number of children referred to reporters – who assess whether cases should be put before the country’s children’s hearing system – rose from 45,793 in 2003-4 to 50,529 in 2004-5, according to the annual report of the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration (SCRA). This follows a 13 per cent rise last year and is up by one-third since 2000.

There was a 12 per cent rise to 37,460 in the number of children referred because of welfare concerns, while those referred for committing offences rose by 1,000, or 6 per cent, to 17,494. Of these, 1,260 were persistent young offenders, up 5 per cent on 2003-4. Children can be referred on both welfare and offence grounds.

Bernadette Docherty, chair of the Association of Directors of Social Work’s children and families committee, said children referred on welfare grounds often went on to offend.

“We have to invest more in vulnerable children so they don’t become offenders later on,” she said. “There have been additional resources for youth justice, but there haven’t been any for core children’s services, and councils are struggling to meet this growing demand.”

Keith Simpson, head of service development at crime-reduction charity Sacro, said: “Until we see a reduction in welfare referrals we can’t expect to see a reduction in offence referrals.”

Tom Sullivan, SCRA’s director of reporter operations, said the rise in welfare referrals could partly be attributed to police now automatically referring children involved in domestic abuse cases to reporters.

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