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'Scottish local authorities are working hard to identify and help young people in need and to stop them offending'....
'Scottish local authorities are working hard to identify and help young people in need and to stop them offending'. This was the message delivered by COSLA's social work and health improvement spokesman Eric Jackson following the release of youth justice statistics.

'The number of persistent offenders has gone up, and the Scottish Executive's target has not been met, that is disappointing, but we are in this for the long term, and as anyone who has worked day in day out with young people, as councils have, will know that it often takes a long time to overcome young offenders complex , and deep seated problems.

'Local government and the Scottish Executive have a duty not to let down any young person or community. So together we must redouble our efforts to reduce offending, from by what is still a small minority of our young people.'

Speaking about the report Mr Jackson said:

'Everyone knows that statistics can be used to support just about any argument. Yes, persistent offender referrals are up, but the report also shows that on average the number of referrals per offender is down. This shows that once a persistent offender has been identified, councils are successful in reducing offending.

It is clear that with such complex issues, relying only on raw numbers will never adequately demonstrate the dedication and challenges faced by staff on the ground.

'As we are identifying more young offenders, I believe that over the long term we will be able to reduce the amount persistent offenders and the number of offences committed.

Identifying and helping more young people stop offending does put pressure on council services, but this is the business that we are in. Councils remain determined to work with the Scottish Executive to ensure that we achieve our joint aim reducing youth offending.'

Scottish Youth Justice Performance Report

Summary report

Scottish Executive press release follows.

Rise in number of persistent offenders

The number of persistent offenders has risen over the last two years, according to a report published today by the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration.

Ministers had set a 10 per cent target for reducing the number of persistent young offenders by 2005-06 from that recorded in the baseline year of 2003-04, but the report shows the figures went up from 1,201 to 1,388 over that period.

Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson expressed disappointment and restated her determination that the performance in this area must improve.

She praised local authorities and other agencies who have achieved significant reductions in offending, and challenged other areas to do the same.

She called for a redoubling of efforts to deal with the minority of youths who repeatedly threaten the peace and safety of their local communities.

She also pointed to positive developments. Despite an increased workload, improvements have been made by all agencies on the time taken to report, assess and decide cases. Police and Reporters met their National Standards targets, and there was an improvement in social work reporting performance.

The average time taken from the Reporter receiving an offence-only referral to a decision being reached by a Children's Hearing was reduced by four working days, from 74 in 2003-04 to 70 in 2005-06, despite increased referral volumes. Reporting on persistent young offenders was consistently quicker than the wider group, showing they are being prioritised.

The Executive today published a summary report, outlining progress towards meeting the 10-point Action Plan on Youth Crime, as well as the National Standards.

Ms Jamieson said: 'The vast majority of young people are a credit to themselves, their families and their communities but the behaviour of a small minority remains a persistent problem.

'The fact that reductions of between 10 and 55 per cent in the number of persistent young offenders were achieved in seven local authority areas shows that this is a target that can be met, and our target for 2008 remains in place.

'Hard-working families and communities across Scotland want government and local agencies to deliver two things in terms of youth justice.

'They want to see the behaviour of persistent offenders challenged and changed. And, above all, they want to see fewer crimes carried out against them, their families, their property or their neighbours.

'We have provided considerable investment in local services. Youth justice funding is now at£63 million per year.

'Young people's offending is now being tackled more quickly as a result of the investment and reform driven forward in the Children's Hearings system.

'Local agencies are getting a better grip on who the main offenders are - our leadership, standards and new antisocial behaviour legislation have helped concentrate and focus local action.

'But too many areas are still not delivering the necessary improvements for their local communities and are not progressing towards nationally agreed standards of performance, particularly in terms of persistent young offenders.

'Where local areas are on track, we will support them to continue on that track and ensure that they continue the good work and make unbroken progress.

'Where local areas are off the pace, we will ensure they learn from those who are ahead of them, sending in additional support to help them get up to speed.

'If we all redouble our efforts to tackle the problems of youth crime and antisocial behaviour, we can make Scotland safer for everyone, including our young people, who are disproportionately affected by youth crime.

'As a Minister I am not prepared to write off any young person in Scotland. But neither am I prepared to allow a young person's unchecked behaviour to write off a community.'

A youth justice improvement team, bringing together experienced professionals from across Scotland, is now in place to provide agencies with advice and support on best practice and to ensure they are improving local performance and delivery.

In 2002 the Executive published a 10-point Action Plan on Youth Justice and also set agencies working in youth justice a number of National Standards to be met by 2006. This included a target to reduce the number of persistent young offenders by 10 per cent by March 2006, and a further 10 per cent by 2008, from a baseline figure of 1,201 in 2003-04.

A persistent young offender is defined as a child or young person with five offending episodes within a six-month period, where an offending episode is equal to referral to the Children's Reporter under the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, section 52(2)(i).

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