Project to divert children from life in organised crime launches in Edinburgh

A project to divert children from a life in organised crime is being launched in Edinburgh following its “astonishing” success in Glasgow.

Mentors with similar backgrounds and experiences work with young people known to be involved in serious criminal activity or “on the cusp” of being snared by crime gangs in Action for Children’s Serious Organised Crime Early Intervention Service.

The Edinburgh scheme will target approximately 80 young people identified as being at risk of falling into organised crime by police, care workers and schools.

It will use peers and youth workers as positive role models and examples of how to turn their lives around.

First launched in Glasgow in 2013, the award-winning project boasts a success rate of more than 70% in preventing reoffending, according to Action for Children.

The charity’s director, Paul Carberry (pictured), who also chairs an organised crime taskforce, said the project had been successful in Glasgow because mentors were able to engage with at-risk young people who “don’t trust the state”.

“There was a recognition that once young people got involved in organised crime it was very difficult to get them out, and they created a disproportionate amount of harm in the community,” Mr Carberry said.

Edinburgh City Council, Police Scotland and the Scottish Government will all work alongside Action for Children, with Edinburgh being chosen for the first stage of a UK-wide rollout.

Mentors and youth workers will offer intensive one-to-one support, peer mentoring, education and employment training to approximately 80 young people across the capital each year.

Mr Carberry said the involvement of the mentors – many of whom also have a past history of offending – was “absolutely crucial” because they are relatable and can engage the vulnerable youngsters.

“Because of their involvement in serious crime, families don’t trust the state and the kids are trained not to co-operate in case they give any information,” he said.

“One of the benefits of this approach is we actually get in the door and we work with the kids and build that trust.

“They recognise that we’re there to turn the kid’s life around.”

He gave an example of a young man from a notorious Glasgow crime family whose “role model was somebody who had been murdered – that’s who he aspired to be”, until his mentor managed to become his new role model.

“As a society we’ve got a responsibility to save these kids and put them on the right road because it can only end in one of two ways; end up in prison or being murdered,” Mr Carberry added.

Detective Superintendent Raymond Brown said: “It’s about breaking the cycle, giving these young people a positive role model who have got a lived experience.

“At the moment, the people they may look up to might be serious and organised criminals.

“But the mentors might become that role model and it will be a positive role model”

Edinburgh councillor Alison Dickie said: “There is nothing more important than protecting children.

“This is another tool in the box and it’s a very, very welcome one.”

She added: “Serious organised crime has a significant impact on the lives of young people, their families and local communities.

“This project works by intervening early and helping vulnerable young people who risk getting dragged into a downward spiral of crime which they then can’t escape.”

The scheme will be funded by a £4.6 million lottery grant.

National Lottery’s Scottish funding director Neil Ritchie said: “What struck us about this project, and what still strikes us, is that it starts with young people at its core, it makes a strength out of the experience of people like the peer mentors,

“But it also builds on connection, so it brings that combination of lived experience and professional experience and expertise together to focus on what is a really difficult and wicked social problem to deal with.”

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