26/08/2016 10:58 BST | Updated 25/08/2017 06:12 BST

Helping Vulnerable Families Thrive: Police And Prevention

Creating a community environment which allows vulnerable families with complex needs to thrive is no mean feat. Families where intergenerational complexities often mean engagement with social and mental health services and the criminal justice system where so often trust has broken down.

It is complex, there are no straight forward answers and yet to give those children a chance of the support they need to thrive, which in turn allows their parents with the opportunity and supportive circle of care to grow a healthy family unit, has to be a worthy goal to support rather than scapegoat in our local communities.

After working in one of the largest women's prisons in Europe my eyes remain wide open to the challenges and complexities of day to day living for the families of the women and men incarcerated. Many of whose children are with grandparents or in foster care.

I still hear the tragic stories and see the faces portraying the horrors of life history of these women and men, once children that I journeyed with, whom you could say didn't stand a chance in life with the families they were born into. And yet, how do we allow these families to thrive?

After some years working within the criminal justice system and mental health services, for me the two are intrinsically linked - and yet how do we find real time solutions that are upstream and preventative to truly break intergenerational complexities,that allow children and families to thrive rather than deteriorate.

My collaborator within this blog has completely turned my perception around what the police force could be doing more of across the country to allow this to happen. Jack Rowlands is one of the most inspirational officers I have ever met and is a man with a plan and such compassion for these complex families, that it is difficult not to catch his enthusiasm and vision. His words follow to share his vision.

Sir Robert Peel, the creator of the modern police force stated that the basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder. Nowadays crime prevention still plays a major part but so does harm prevention. So where does our focus need to start?

When prevention is labelled 'long term' you'd be lucky to have a 'five year' plan. Plans often fit around tenures of government and at the highest level of police leadership. You can't blame them though as most senior leaders will want to see the impact of what their leadership has achieved in the time when they are in command.

A truly preventive shift should focus and concentrate our efforts on generational crime prevention. Tackling the root causes of crime should start with tackling the root causes of child maltreatment and neglect. Between the ages of zero and two, a child's brain will form over one million new connections (between brain cells) every second. In this time the brain is setting you up for life - a life of relationships.

The brain develops the connections according to what it experiences in those formative early years - those experiences are in the context of relationships. If your environment is one of violence and aggression, most likely the 'fight or flight' response will be overly developed. You will be more likely to over-react to situations of stress, and use aggression or violence.

68% of the UK prison population have been the subject of child abuse and neglect at some point in their lifetime.

'That isn't a police officer's job, that's why we have social services' you may say. It is our job already. As police officers we are often the first through the front door when early warning signs appear. Domestic abuse in pregnancy and where young children are present are all too common.

This year alone the Metropolitan Police Service reported nearly 80,000 domestic incidents. Thats reported, how many more incidents actually occur unreported? For every child that is caught up in that situation we record a come to notice report. Its that report that we share with partners. The system we use is clunky and not really fit for purpose in modern policing. It needs to be streamlined and clear in able to convey those early years risk factors of neglect, infant mental health and dysfunctional attachment.

There are many other indications of child abuse that we are not trained to look for. We are then not seen as experts and subsequently not seen as early years practitioners by our partner agencies. Are we taken seriously by professions when it comes to recognising risk factors? A twenty minute input to my team recently on early years was, according to them, the missing link they have been wanting for years. The science, the research but more so the why. Why do we have violence in society, drug addiction and mental health crisis. It gave the officers a bedrock of knowledge that they can then apply practically but also convey to partners.

In times of austerity - is making police officers qualified in recognising child maltreatment cost effective? The cost of picking up the pieces as a consequence of child maltreatment costs the UK over £15 billion pounds each year. This includes the costs of many services including criminal justice, the police and prison services. Should police and society continue to use sticking plasters, rather than inoculate against violence?

Giving police officers the training and tools as early years practitioners thus shifting the focus towards preventing crime, at source, in future will pay dividends both socially and financially. Early years intervention by a police officer could be the first stage in preventing a life of crime and violence in the future.

Investing now in generational crime prevention might not suit people looking for quick wins, but why not? It's the right thing to do and it's cheaper for society in the long run.

As Sir Robert Peel said crime prevention is at the heart of our values as police officers. We need to prepare for a changing society. Less violence, fewer people in prison and less crime is something we can prepare for now.

For complex situations there are always layers of complexity to address which often require multi-pronged solutions involving a system which is universal, holistic and seamless. Ideal, I hear you say. But in the modern times we live in where we are still getting the fundamentals wrong for the social challenges we face we have a responsibility collectively to get it right.

Scientific knowledge and evidence that shows us how we could be creating healthier communities including for those with complex needs is surely the approach for todays world in which we live in. How can we be becoming so technologically savvy as a nation with the digital revolution that is taking place and yet be failing to truly address the real social concerns, that are causing so much human misery in the corners of our communities and stinging the public purse.

Prevention is cure - when are we going to learn to get this right?