A Scottish project is helping to steer children away from serious crime - Paul Carberry

At the beginning of July, I was honoured to address a European conference highlighting the success of our Scottish project which works to prevent young people becoming involved in serious and organised crime.

Paul Carberry is the Action for Children director for Scotland.

Readers will remember I previously wrote about Action for Children’s Serious Organised Crime Early Intervention Service when it secured international recognition in 2019. Thanks to the National Lottery Community Fund, this service has now been rolled out to other sites in the United Kingdom.

Prior to this project’s creation, there was growing acknowledgment organised crime was a problem you could not just arrest your way out of. However, there was no service working to divert young people away from involvement in these crimes. In Glasgow, a collaboration between Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership, Police Scotland and Action for Children worked to rectify that and create a project which was the first of its kind in the UK.

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Given the challenges engaging with these young people, it meant adopting a new approach: one that was not simply a quick fix. Many of those young people are heavily embedded in organised crime –some being the latest generation of their family to be involved. As such, many are wary of, and have previously refused to engage with, other statutory services. That can make engaging with them, and their families, difficult. It is through our use of ‘peer mentors’, many who have personal experience of the criminal justice system, which is key to the success of breaking down the walls the families and young people have put up.

Those ‘peer mentors’ work directly with the young person to gain their trust and learn about what gives rise to their offending behaviour, crime patterns as well as issues at home. At the same time, another worker works alongside the families to gain their support to make positive changes. With so many of these families being ‘pro-criminal’, it is important that our staff can build and develop trust with both the young people and the families, allowing them to be open to seeing, as well as embarking on, another way of life.

I am very proud that the service has gone from strength to strength since. In 2019, we secured £4.6m from the National Lottery Community Fund to build on that project’s success in Glasgow and to take it to other parts of the UK. In all these new areas, the projects are benefiting from strong local partnerships with respective police forces and councils. Furthermore, we are currently exploring other areas of Scotland which would benefit from the work of this life-changing project. As members of the of the Serious Organised Crime Task Force, we are also developing other innovative approaches to tackle serious organised crime in Scotland.

As I have said, the service won international recognition when it won the overall ‘Excellence’ award at the prestigious European Social Services Awards in 2019. As a result of that win, I was invited to address the 2020 awards to showcase the project to delegates. Sadly, Covid prevented this going ahead, but this year, at least virtually, I was able to present on our project, its success, and the importance of a partnership approach to its success.

As this project continues to grow, I am proud that to see it being promoted Europe-wide as a successful model to follow and aspire too. It is a Scottish success story, playing a significant part in improving the life chances of vulnerable young people. That is something to be celebrated and I was privileged to be able to highlight its efforts to colleagues from across Europe.

Paul Carberry is Action for Children’s Director for Scotland and chairs the ‘Divert’ stream of Scotland’s Serious Organised Crime Taskforce.

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