“We must not let up on the drive to cut young offending”

This article originally appeared in The Herald on 2nd February 2018

By Angela Morgan, Chief Executive, Includem

The term “fake news” may have entered the lexicon in 2017 but it shows no sign of abating. On a daily basis the papers and social media are awash with claims and counter-claims; facts blur with opinion and statistics become a way of proving a point, regardless of the picture they actually paint.

What gets crowded out time and time again is the deeper discussion about the issues affecting Scotland today.

After 40 years as a social worker and 10 years leading Includem, a charity supporting some of the most vulnerable young people in Scotland, I know there is a need for a little more introspection. For the young people we support there is very little that is black and white in their lives. They are never solely an “offender”, or a looked-after child, or someone excluded from school. The reality is they are full of potential, with all the strengths and dreams we expect for all our children but with a need for support to fulfil them.

By some measures the outcomes for young people in Scotland today are considerably better than when Includem first opened its doors in 2000 to fill a gap in services for young people who weren’t being helped anywhere else. In our work with young people involved in offending in Glasgow there is no question that things have got better, and the national picture echoes that – a significant drop in the number of young people referred to the children’s hearing system on offence grounds and similar reductions in offending across the board.

Reading some of the commentary lately however, you could be forgiven for thinking that there is no longer a need to support young people involved in offending with early, preventative intervention. Problem solved, job done, it would seem.

But those of us who work in this field know that isn’t the case.

The reduction in offending hasn’t happened by accident, but the result of a concerted effort by public services and charities to try a new approach – to understand the root causes of offending and tackle them head on. At the heart of this is recognising the strengths in individuals and intervening early before offending becomes a way of life.

Includem has been at the forefront of that approach – as part of a unique partnership with Police Scotland. Over the past five years we have evidenced a sharp decline in offending and a marked improvement in the protective factors that sustain non-offending – secure housing, reduced alcohol and drug misuse, strong relationships and engagement with education or employment.

There is a real danger that we undo this progress unless we recognise that the need for these preventative approaches hasn’t gone away. Demand for our reducing offending work remains, never more so than with rising levels of poverty and social inequality.

It is understandable that in tough financial climates the focus on services will move away from those where progress seems to have been made to those where progress has been less visible. But if we want to sustain Scotland’s record on reducing offending we need to maintain the services which have brought it about. We need to continue intervening early and stick with those who most need support with their chaotic lives.

We need to think about these complex social issues beyond the binary success or failure and beyond easy comparisons of statistics. Beneath the headlines is wasted potential of young people who with the right support can make a real contribution. We’ve shown it can work and we’ve made huge progress.

Let’s not stop now.

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