Stopping the Troubled Children of Today Becoming the Adult Prison Population of Tomorrow

10/09/2011 00:05 BST | Updated 09/11/2011 10:12 GMT

Barnardo's believes in children - all children, even those who offend and cause distress to their families and communities. Even these children, particularly these children, deserve another chance.

At Barnardo's we know that if you want to be serious about reducing offending and re-offending by children, if you want to be serious about protecting our communities, you have to deal with the underlying problems that lead to this behaviour. You have to tackle the impoverished social landscapes and the chaotic and abusive lives that afflict many of these children.

Barnardo's is committed to doing this by providing a range of innovative and effective services for children in trouble with the law and by undertaking research that helps us be clear about how we can achieve the outcomes we want for them, their families and their communities.

We work with children who are at risk of becoming involved in criminal behaviour by supporting them and their families through our family intervention projects, children's centres and parenting support services.

Take Mark, a 15-year-old who was awaiting the outcome of an assault charge and whose whole family were in danger of being evicted because of his behaviour.

We worked with Mark, his brother, sister and stepfather, school, police and youth service.

After 11 months there were no further incidents and Mark has moved on from the gang he'd been hanging around with. He received a student of the year award and has now taken up an apprenticeship in bricklaying.

These are the young people right on the edge of the criminal justice system, but we also work directly with children who are already inside it.

In Scotland we provide robust programmes for young offenders, such as Plan B (so-called because 'plan A' failed). This seeks to give young people in prison help tailored to their needs so they can work towards their return to the community. We want to help them rebuild their well-being and confidence, their relationships with friends and family, overcome substance use and self-harm and give them the skills and learning they will need in the outside world.

In England and Wales we work with children in nine custodial institutions in the secure estate through our advocacy services and have two innovative services providing youth work with young people in aged 16 to 21 in custody.

Never one to shirk complex problems, Barnardo's has long recognised the need for very specialist services for children who commit sexual offences, particularly against other children. For a number of years we have been one of the few agencies working with these children, assessing their risk, providing therapeutic treatment and supporting families.

Yet we are also concerned to help prevent young people getting on the conveyer belt to criminality and so work with young people whose circumstances mean they are at risk of offending in the future.

All the evidence tells us that children who are out of school, whether by exclusion or truancy are more likely to get involved in criminality. Indeed, 88 per cent of young men in young offender institutions were, at some point, excluded from school. Barnardo's provides direct services supporting children in mainstream education; we run alternative education services for excluded children and education and training for those over 16 who are NEET.

At Barnardo's we know that the youth justice system can work for young people, but we believe that the definition of the youth justice system must be broad. Because the factors that impact on youth offending are complex and multiple our responses and services must be equally diverse. This means that the responsibility for deterring young people from crime should not belong to a single agency and that we all have our parts to play in helping make sure that young people in trouble today do not inevitably become the adult prison population of tomorrow.