Early intervention can stop a life of crime
There are solutions to grim statistics on youth offending, says Geraldine Gammell
THE recently released Scottish Government figures on the number of school exclusions – now at record levels – is clearly deeply alarming but what is even more disturbing is the 14 per cent increase in exclusions due to physical attacks by pupils on fellow pupils or teachers.
In Edinburgh, the new figures that were released last week showed that 2585 children in primary and secondary school were excluded in just one year for a host of incidents, ranging from threatening and aggressive behaviour to assaulting classmates or teachers with weapons. And it is children from poor and troubled backgrounds (especially those in care) who feature disproportionately in these statistics.
Preventing such exclusions will require clear political will, with greater investment in early intervention and alternative learning programmes which are individually tailored and targeted to the needs of those young people most at risk.
Almost a fifth of Scotland's young people need help in securing jobs, education and training places, one of the highest figures in the developed world and a tremendous waste of individual human potential. For many of these young people, their lives are often without hope – living in poverty, homeless and adding to our criminal statistics, a situation that ends up costing the country billions of pounds each year.
Early intervention programmes work to create opportunities around each individual young person they support and will ultimately result in them making a worthy contribution to our economy and society. For example, "xlerate with xl", a leading Prince's Trust programme for young people aged 14 to 16, aims to tackle those young people in school who are underachievers, poor attendees or are at risk of exclusion – the precise group who go on to become disengaged from society and potential offenders.
To invest in early intervention is economic common sense, or in cruder terms, value for money, reducing the cost to society created by those who move into a life of unemployment and crime. The cost to incarcerate a young offender in an institution such as Polmont, for example, is over 30,000-a-year and this does not take account of the economic impact of crime, estimated at over 92m each year. The cost of putting someone through a Trust programme, such as "xlerate with xl", is a mere 500.
It is a properly resourced and efficiently funded voluntary sector, working in partnership with the Scottish Government, local authorities and the private sector that will be the key to addressing the challenge of our disenfranchised young people and motivate tens of thousands of disengaged young Scots to enter the world of further education, work or training.
• Geraldine Gammell is the director of The Prince's Trust Scotland.
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