Sunday, August 06, 2006

#5 'Predicting' children who may offend (2)

In addition to YOTs, each area also has a ‘Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership’ (CDRP), a Home Office initiative that consists of the same sort of bodies as a YOT, plus voluntary sector and community reps. There is overlap in the work that CDRPs and YOTs cover; children identified under one scheme may be provided for under another.

The CDRP is responsible for delivering a Home Office-designed scheme called ‘Prolific and Other Priority Offenders’ (PPO) which is divided into 3 tiers. The first tier of this scheme is called ‘Prevent and Deter’ and, as the name suggests, focuses on those thought to show signs of being predisposed towards offending. Data is held on the local PPO Performance Management System. Guidance on running a PPO ‘prevent and deter’ scheme can be downloaded here.

The identification of children for the various schemes inevitably involves the sharing of information. The powers most usually relied upon to do this are general ones contained in:
  • Section 2 of the Local Government Act 2000 which gives each local authority the power to do anything that promotes the economic, social and environmental well-being of their area. A copy of guidance on the use of this power is on the ODPM site
  • Section 37 of the Crime And Disorder Act 1998 which places a duty on “all persons and bodies carrying out functions in relation to the youth justice system” to have regard to the aim of preventing offending by children and young people.
There are several other ‘diversionary’ schemes run by different combinations of agencies and voluntary sector providers – again, with considerable overlap. To give some examples:
  • On Track’ was established by the Home Office in 1999 and then taken over by the Children’s Fund. It is aimed at 4 to 12-year-olds and their families in areas of high deprivation and crime.
  • Positive Futures is another Home Office initiative, started by the Drug Strategy Directorate in partnership with Sport England and the YJB, but its management has just been handed over to ‘Crime Concern’. It is aimed at those aged 10-19, especially those living in deprived neighbourhoods.
  • Positive Activities for Young People (PAYP) is for 8‑19-year-olds who are identified as being ‘at risk’ of social exclusion or committing crime, or who are ‘disengaged’ from education.
This is beginning to cross the line into the far wider ‘predictive’ agenda covered by ‘Every Child Matters’ and the Children Act 2004. In the interests of clarity, we’ll stop there for today and deal with a predictive system called RYOGENS tomorrow.

The various schemes we've talked about may well offer children and young people a great deal of fun, and we're by no means saying that they spend long evenings sewing mailbags. We are told that, in some areas, services have been overwhelmed by young people who have not been identified as part of the target group, but who nevertheless want to join the activities on offer.

Questions arise, though, over the targeting of specific people. There is real concern that early 'labelling' of children stigmatises them and is counter-productive. It's also worth considering what the reaction might be if the government introduced similar targetted 'interventions' for adults. Children also have human rights - and they can be defamed.

In too many areas there is a serious shortage of affordable play and leisure provision - putting a string like 'youth +facilities +lack' into a search engine reveals the extent of the problem. While some children undoubtedly need intervention, many also get into trouble when they are bored, and 'messing around' escalates.

Should leisure activities have to be justified as 'diversionary activity' before a young person can access them, or should they be routinely available to all? Would adequate provision for all young people, without any qualifying labels or individual monitoring, of itself solve a lot of problems? Such questions in turn raise serious issues about how far society values its younger members, and is prepared to provide for them.

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