Ian Ifan, Manager of the Safe Schools and Communities Team’s police triage scheme, told us about his innovative work in schools. This triage scheme happens primarily in a school/education environment.
In school, with the school
The aim is to not criminalise children unnecessarily and where there have been incidents involving children previously, particularly in schools, 9 out of 10 have resulted in an out of court disposal. Even though this can be a minor way of dealing with the incident, it is still not appropriate or proportional and criminalises the individual. Ian explains that this work is separate from the YOT/YOS and goes beyond just thinking about out of court disposals. It is a strategic alliance with Devon & Cornwall and Dorset.
There are specially-trained officers who are part of the team that can go in and deal with incidents within the school environment, placing onus on addressing it in school, with the school. This can include anything from coming in and mediating situations to then holding educational workshops, talking with teachers, staff, students and parents.
There are different levels to the severity of incidents that might happen in school with level 1 being very minor and something that can be addressed there and then and then level 3 being an incident that requires police intervention and, most likely, subsequent criminal action. There are different policies and approaches to dealing with different types of incidents in school and child-related issues. For example, there is work regarding children’s behaviour online, via an internet safety policy, where the team deliver workshops and educational talks about online bullying and risky behaviour online, held at the school. Some elements of online activity are not addressed by the team in this way, such as grooming, developing communication with adults online, sexting or serious cases concerning things like self-harm.
In those more serious cases that are not addressed by these workshops, there would be an investigation from the police. Following this, where applicable, there may be workshops that are delivered not just to the children but also parents. Ian explains that there is a sexting policy in both Dorset and Devon and Cornwall but primarily incidents of this nature are dealt with by the school with support from this team.
When dealing with individuals, in most cases there would be an outcome 21 (no further action) after any investigation and this is interest of the children. It avoids any unnecessary criminalisation and contains the situation. Ian emphasises that the team is made up of experts who have had training and are able to work in these environments. They are hoping to also bring drugs education and awareness and to also think about county lines. This would involve educating all; the children, schools and parents on the grooming of children to sell drugs.
On some occasions a youth restorative disposal is an apt response to incidents as an out of court disposal option. Whatever response there is, there needs to be a holistic and well-rounded view and understanding of the child and incident before any action is taken. Other services include weekend workshops for things like shoplifting and even drugs possession. If there is the need, 1-on-1 sessions can take place with the young people. Other work that the Dorset police are doing concerns preventing the criminalisation of children in care – which Ian says does unfortunately happen even though they are vulnerable and in need of support.
Leading the way
The first part of this work began in 2012 and has continued to develop from there. It started out as a small team only delivering these services in a few schools in one area and then grew due to the success. The police triage is a Dorset police product. Devon and Cornwall do not have the same yet but plans are afoot and they are already starting to standardise and integrate some of the Dorset procedures like their sexting policy. It is hoped it will gradually expand into other areas.
When developing this work, they looked briefly at Thames Valley and the way their officers were being prepped and trained but aside from that Ian says that there are no other schemes that are really like this. Ian also highlights that this was a response to local needs and motivations wherein they wanted to really deal with the criminalisation of young people. He did say that in Wales, the PCC there is investing large sums of money into police officers who are trained and able to do work in schools and address school-related issues.
Ian says that the strong partnership aspect to the work done with the triage is what make this innovative. They work with expert partner agencies who have knowledge of young people, schools and the issues they face, they are consulted throughout and give feedback on their work. Funding and austerity are identified by Ian as challenges faced across the criminal justice system and he says that it is really about “doing as much as we can with what we’ve got” and working together in effective and strong partnerships. He has seen a lot of duplication in some areas and inefficiency which could be remedied by good partnerships and communication.
The overall aim of this work is preventing the criminalisation of young people, especially children. Ian reports that since the start of the scheme (and at the time of writing), around 1200 children have avoided coming into real contact with the criminal justice system and therefore have not been criminalised. Ian says that they have dealt with roughly 600 cases with most involving multiple children. Funding comes from core police funding and the PCC. Ian highlights that its continued good performance means that it is now embedded in the police force and they no longer need to make the case to continue the practice as it is widely acknowledged to be worthwhile and beneficial.
Whilst the scheme only targets children under the age of 18, Ian cites the fact that studies show that maturity and thus the ability to make informed, mature decisions does not happen until the age of 24 and therefore current understandings of ‘young people’ need to be readdressed.
This case study was compiled and edited by Jaskirat Mann in 2018