More young people who spend time in custody will be given the chance to speak to a local youth worker as part of a project aimed at supporting children away from further offending in the South West Basic Command Unit.
In 2018, the Met Police established a ‘child only’ custody facility at the Notting Hill Carnival where youth workers worked alongside police to help explain the custody procedure as well as having one to one discussions about their life direction, hopes and aspirations.
It quickly became apparent that young people were more open to having honest conversations with the youth workers who listened to their personal experiences and then provided support and guidance.
Since then, officers have been working with local authorities and other organisations to continue this work through a project called ‘Engage’. Dedicated youth workers are now available at a number of custody suites including Islington and Holborn, meaning all 10 to 17 year olds who come into custody are given the opportunity to speak to them.
Across these two custody suites, 98 per cent of children have taken up the offer. Due to these positive outcomes it is now being rolled out to the South West Basic Command Unit (BCU) boroughs of Wandsworth, Kingston, Merton and Richmond.
Youth workers will now actively engage with children during the time they are in custody to understand more about their personal circumstances, their motivations and their family support networks.
Following their release from custody, they will then arrange to meet again within 24-48 hours to explore possible crime diversion activities, educational opportunities or to work with the family as a whole.
The ambition is that this will further reduce the risk of children entering the criminal justice system and ensure they are engaged with intervention at the earliest opportunity to support diversion from offending.
Chief Inspector Russell Hughes, from Met Detention, said: “We are changing how we view the custody space and we recognise that there are opportunities for youth workers and investigators to work alongside each other during this teachable, reachable period in time.
“Growing up in London is not always easy and many of the children seen in custody are at a crisis point and often willing to engage with us when offered the chance. This project provides a platform for this to happen and to take these relationships outside of the custody area.”
In the South West BCU, officers are working in partnership with local councils and social enterprise Achieving for Children (AfC) who provide children’s services in Kingston and Richmond.
Michael O’Connor, Associate Director for Early Help, AfC, said: “At AfC we are committed to improving outcomes for children in Kingston and Richmond.
“We are already doing some amazing and innovative work with children affected by serious youth violence and offending and are engaged with some of the most vulnerable children within our boroughs.
“The Engage project will provide us with the opportunity to do this sooner and when problems emerge. The potential of engagement at teachable, reachable moments is exciting and I am looking forward to seeing the impact of this work on outcomes over the next year”.
The Engage project goes live on the South West BCU on Tuesday, 11 August.