Barnardo’s Cymru pioneers ways to stop lives of crime

A CHILDREN’S charity is running a high-profile campaign calling on Government agencies to invest in helping youngsters as soon as behaviour problems emerge.

Barnardo’s Cymru’s Break the Cycle campaign uses a hard- hitting television commercial to highlight the need for resources to intervene with troubled young people early to prevent behaviour problems from spiralling into serious trouble and offending.

The advert features a young girl who suffers abuse at home and struggles at school, eventually ending up behind bars after committing a violent crime.

The charity argues that helping children when behavioural problems first surface could in many cases prevent the issues from escalating into a negative cycle of truancy, expulsion from school and offending.

In Neath and Port Talbot, the charity already runs the Children’s Inclusion Project (Chip), which aims to reach out to young people who show early signs of difficulties.

Funded by the lottery for three years, the scheme has only been going since October but early indications suggest it is working.

Rhian Evans, the charity’s services manager for the Neath and Port Talbot area, believes other parts of Wales and the UK would benefit from similar initiatives.

She said: “My personal opinion is that there is a place for this kind of project.

“There’s an argument that if you apply the resources into prevention, then you don’t need as many resources to deal with the resulting problems.”

Chip helps children referred to Barnardo’s Cymru by teachers or professionals in youth work, health or social services. The youngsters have issues, such as early behaviour problems at school, which have been identified as key risk factors for future young offenders.

Miss Evans said: “Studies show that people with these risk factors have a greater chance of offending later on in life.

“These children are aged between eight and 11 so by intervening early we’re able to give them a huge change of direction in their lives.

“Theoretically, this project should prevent children from offending before it happens – but I think it does more than that. It also addresses the issue of young people’s emotional well-being.”

Once referred to the project, a young person is assigned a key worker, who discusses issues with the child and their parents, teachers and sometimes other professionals.

“From there, we draw up an action plan with the child and the young person agrees to follow it,” said Miss Evans.

“The thrust of that plan is to involve the appropriate agencies to deal with the issues in question.

“We use tools and techniques well known within the youth justice service, which help the child to understand why they need to change their behaviour.

“In some cases, we look at the consequences of actions – spending time with them unpicking what they’re doing and the consequences it has,” she said.

“It helps the child to draw breath and think about what they want for themselves and how they can modify their behaviour accordingly.”

Already more than 20 children have been helped by the project and many have shown significant signs of improvement.

Miss Evans said: “For one of the children, some of the behaviour issues were down to potential learning difficulties, which hadn’t been identified. One of our actions was to talk to the school and take that forward.”

As well as working with young people having early behavioural problems, Chip also provides a mentoring scheme for reformed young offenders in an attempt to help them stay on the right track.

The scheme will be independently evaluated over the next few years, but Miss Evans said she is optimistic about the results.

She added: “A lot of the feedback we’ve had so far has been very positive, which is really exciting.”