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EARLY INTERVENTION CRUCIAL IN TACKLING YOUTH CRIME

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The Scottish Children's Reporter Administration today reinforced the need for early intervention in dealing with tr...
The Scottish Children's Reporter Administration today reinforced the need for early intervention in dealing with troubled children and young offenders, as it published its annual report.

The SCRA is the national body which works with partners to provide an integrated care and justice system for children in Scotland. In its annual report 2003-2004, the organisation noted that 45,793 children were referred to the children's reporter during that period, an increase of 12.6% on the previous year. This is an all-time high.

Of these 45,793, there has been a marked increase in children referred on non-offence grounds (care and protection issues), an increase of 3,283 on the previous year.[1]

Overall, for every child referred to the reporter for an offence (16,470), two children are referred on non-offence grounds, where there is concern for their safety or welfare (33,379)[2].

Douglas Bulloch, SCRA chair said: 'All of the agencies involved in children's services need to be concerned by the year on year increase of children referred to us. These figures suggest that every year more and more children in Scotland are experiencing real difficulties such that compulsory measures of care are being considered.

'Early intervention is critical to ensure that children in need get the support they need when they need it most. Our experience and knowledge of the circumstances of the children coming to our attention raise a series of challenging questions for society on why so many children in Scotland - about one in 20 children - find themselves in this position. The disrupted pattern of family life, the existence of health inequalities and poverty, the prominence of alcohol and drug abuse are all factors which suggest strongly that we are dealing with children on the wrong side of the opportunity gap. Many of our partners in children's services throughout Scotland have expressed their concern that so many children in Scotland seem to be born to fail.'

Margaret Cox, acting principal reporter, SCRA said: 'Of all the children who are referred to us, only about 11% need to attend a children's hearing. In many cases, children's issues can be satisfactorily addressed by voluntary intervention at a local level. We continue to work with partners to ensure that support is increasingly provided locally without the need for referral to the reporter.

'We work very closely with the police, local authorities and voluntary organisations to establish best practice in tackling youth crime and we have participated fully in the Fast Track pilot scheme[3], which has a focus on persistent offenders, whose behaviour causes great concern. We need to be able to demonstrate and assure communities that the hearings system can be effective in challenging unacceptable behaviour while placing the interest and welfare of children and young people at the centre of our concerns.

'I am exceptionally proud of our staff who continue to do an outstanding job despite the very high number of children referred to us and the increasing complexity of the cases which we manage through the Hearings System with the support of children's panel members throughout Scotland.'

The annual report reveals an improvement in the time taken to progress cases through the system despite the increase in referrals to the reporter. In offence cases, the average number of working days to progress a referral to a hearing decision has been cut by 20 days (four weeks) and in non-offence cases the reduction has been 17 days.

Mr Bulloch continued: 'We work with the most damaged, most disadvantaged and sometimes most problematic children and young people in an effort to close the opportunity gap. Our goal is to assist them to become active, productive, contributing members of the Scottish community.'

Notes

The annual report is available here.

[1] The increase in children referred on non-offence grounds, 3,283, represents an increase of 12%; children referred on offence grounds has risen by 1,848 or 13% over the previous 12 months

[2] The same children can be referred on offence and non-offence grounds

[3] The SCRA also published today an update on the first 18 months of the fast track children's hearings pilot scheme

The SCRA is the national body which works with partners to provide an integrated care and justice system for all Scotland's children.

SCRA became fully operational on 1 April 1996 and its objectives include:

To facilitate the work of children's reporters

To deploy and manage staff to carry out that work

To provide suitable accommodation for children's hearings

To provide leadership and coordination throughout the hearings system

To improve outcomes for children by working increasingly with partners

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