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Tagged In:  Youth offending

The criminal justice system has seen many positive changes in recent years in how it perceives and treats young people, in particular children. The rate of arrests has dropped and police forces are less focussed on target-driven policing, resolving matters informally through the use of restorative disposals. 




This autumn saw the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) formalise a more proportionate approach to low level offending by young people, with the publication of its National Strategy for Policing Children and Young People. The strategy emphasises that children and young people (C&YP) have specific emotional and physical needs that starkly contrast with adult offenders.

The long awaited guidance states ‘it is crucial that in all encounters with the police, those below the age of 18 should be treated as children first’. Treating under -18s as children first is not new though. Police already have to do so under sections 10 and 11 of the Children Act 2004 and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. What is new, however, is the approach the NPCC is recommending with a renewed emphasis on making sure that in all situations where C&YP come to the attention of the police, a full understanding of their circumstances is sought. 

Stop and search


Crucially, the NPCC makes it absolutely clear on the need for police to carefully consider how stop and search is used. In responses from 10 forces, figures show that in 2008/9 the police stopped and searched 239,198 children below the age of 18. Whilst this has fallen to 78,449 stops in 2013/14 it is still a considerable number and it can alienate young people. 

The review as to how stop search should be used will no doubt be welcomed by many of those we recruit within youth offending teams across the country. After all, it’s been widely reported that many young people are unsure of what their rights are, and that a stop and search is often a hostile experience. 

Rather, these encounters with young people should be used to, as the NPCC states, ‘improve our relationship with young people’. 
 

Looked after children 


With 25% of the prison population having spent time in care during their childhood, it’s not surprising to hear that a third of children in custody have been in care. More needs to be done to build better relationships between the police and looked after children. It was promising to hear that the strategy centres on making every effort to avoid the unnecessary criminalisation of those children, and that working closer with partners to improve outcomes for young people is firmly on the agenda. 

Young people entering into adulthood 


It’s also heartening to see that the NPCC considers young people transitioning into adulthood (18-24 year olds) as C&YP, in the context of the report. There’s little information as to how they will be approached though. We’ll have to wait for the forthcoming action plan, although we understand that C&YP will be split into three groups; those under 10, 10-17 year olds who are subject to the majority of legislation aimed at young people, and those aged 18-24. 

How will the strategy be implemented?


It has been officially approved through the NPCC and an action plan is now being developed through the network of Chief Officer Regional Leads. This will outline the specific activity required to change how policing is delivered. 

A network of police and partner practitioners are going to lead the delivery, which will include evidence-based best practice from The College of Policing.

Partners, including probation staff from Community Rehabilitation Companies, youth offending workers, and those specialising in child and adolescent mental health services will be invited to submit their views and ideas, as well as young people themselves. 

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