Smith of The Star: Our brand of youth justice works...

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BY THE time they’re standing in the dock it’s often too late.

BY THE time they’re standing in the dock it’s often too late.

Carianne Burke 8/6/11

Carianne Burke 8/6/11

Kids off the rails and in trouble are potentially on a path that will see them in and out of the criminal justice system for the rest of their days.

But Sheffield has an answer.

Or rather Sheffield has a series of answers and joined-up thinking that helps stop criminality before it starts.

According to Sheffield City Council and police hundreds of teenagers are turning their back on crime in the city.

And figures on arrests back up their claims

During 2005-2006, just over 1,200 young people a year were arrested after being involved in low level offending or anti-social behaviour.

But over the past five years this number has decreased dramatically, with just under 400 young people arrested in the city last year – a 67 per cent decrease and an all-time low for the service.

The approach is winning the city accolades and imitators across the country.

But how does it work?

Sheffield City Council’s Youth Offending Service has been identifying teenagers and children as young as eight who may be at risk of offending.

Family, community leaders, neighbours or teachers can contact the service if they are in need of support to help cope with youngsters and help them through troubled times.

The service works with kids and their families to offer help and guidance.

Government officials are so impressed that the team has been awarded £75,000 to bolster its existing scheme and Sheffield’s example is being copied by other authorities across the country.

One teenager who was headed down the criminal path is 15-year-old Carrieanne Burke, from Hackenthorpe.

Just over a year ago things started going wrong, She was becoming increasingly violent, getting involved in fights and was excluded from school.

The police were constantly at her parents’ door and she was given a last chance to change or face a future on the wrong side of the law.

“I was fighting with everyone, smashing things up. I just felt angry all the time,” said Carrieanne.

“The school tried to help me but it didn’t work and I still felt the same. Eventually I was arrested.

“A council youth worker came to see me as part of my bail conditions but I thought: “Oh yeah – another person who wants to interfere”.

“But I was surprised when I found it really did help. They helped to get me into another school which I really like and I want to go to every day.

“They also got me counselling to deal with my anger. I really am grateful. Sally Baker has been marvellous with me.

“I have a place at a beauty school in town so things are looking better but eventually I would like to help other kids who have struggled like I have.”

Sally Baker is a Prevention Officer for Sheffield’s Youth Offending Service and Carrieanne’s key worker.

“When I first met Carrieanne it was clear she had never dealt with her grief for both her grandmother, who she was very close to, and also a close friend who had died,” she said

“Once we got her the help she needed in terms of counselling, everything fell into place. Carrieanne is now a changed girl. Now she has had the help I feel sure she will lead a crime-free life. I hope her experience can help others like her turn their back on crime.”

Wayne Hoyle, Youth Crime Prevention Manager for Sheffield City Council said: “We’ve always taken the view that it is far better, if we can help, to stop young people going down a criminal path before it is too late.

“Once someone is arrested it can sometimes be more difficult to help them turn their lives around. Not only that but it becomes increasingly expensive the further someone progresses through the criminal justice system.

“We have found that dealing directly with young people and their families before it gets to the stage of criminal acts has made a big difference. It may be that these families just need a bit of support or guidance. Or it may be there is a range of issues that we can help them to deal with.”

In 2009-10 around 10 per cent of the £800m central and local government funding for tackling youth crime was spent on prevention.