There is no argument that there has been massive investment in youth provision, not necessarily in youth clubs but in local authority schemes. The day's of youth involvement closing down at half-term is hopefully long gone. Of course this investment is measured and subject to qualifying rules. I was heavily involved at one point in the Youth Inclusion Project. This was aimed at youths who were offending or at risk of offending between the ages of 13-16 years. The project head was a man who insisted on discipline and rules and I respected and liked him. The kids were difficult but were kept in line and off the streets. The key to all this was funding, and he was able to tap into some regeneration money to top up the council funds.
His dosage was high, and I don't mean that from a drug viewpoint. The number of participants into the total cost came out at about £3.50 a day per child. Of course he needed to keep the bean counters happy and I supplied him out with arrest figures. We used to contradict each other, as my project was based on increasing arrest figures and his reducing re-offending. The thing we had in common was we both cared and could see the good both our projects were having locally. We used to discuss up and coming kids and if they were below the age limit he'd still let them participate as he knew you had to get them early. It was a win win for me to have the kids entertained and sometimes exported from my area for the day, reducing crime spikes at half-term.
He fell foul of some local politics, the extra funding dried up and eventually moved on elsewhere. Of course the next lot of kids coming through didn't benefit and were lost to the streets, despite there still being a YIP. He was a maverick and ran his project with common sense, doing the right thing as he saw fit.
Today we the police are attempting to compete with other agencies to break down barriers and provide youth provision. The bosses wet themselves with glee when a project comes off and there is a photo opportunity showing how "street" we have become. I think we do it quite well considering we have no money, but we can't do it as well as the experts, and their built in budget. I would be against this as we should be out policing but then there is just the possibility of diverting one or two away from a life of crime.
I've known a lad on my estate since he was 5 years old, and he's now 12. His mother is Afro-Caribbean and a single parent. She's strict and is well aware that he is at risk of being lost to the streets. I've been round the house several times and on the walls there are pictures of black role models who are barristers, soldiers, police officers and recently Barack Obama to remind him he can achieve in his life. He's had a touch off me before over a minor misdemeanour and I was rather gutted to receive a phone call off duty (is that in the pledge?) from mum telling me he had been arrested for assaulting a boy who goes to his school.
I went round the next time I was on duty to see what had gone on. He'd hit a boy in his class who'd been annoying him in the street after school. Members of the public called 999 and he'd been pointed out and nicked. The other lad's parent wanted to know so he received a youth reprimand. I had a long chat with him, and this other lad had been pestering him and pushed it too far. He admitted he should have handled it better and was genuinely sorry. I've seen him on the street and he is a "leader", already with a named crew at 12 and could be classed as up and coming. He is also a nice lad, articulate and I hope worth a bit of our time. I suggested the YIP to mum who doesn't want him mixing with older boy's who may lead him astray.
I had him in mind when one of the excellent PCSO's at my station stated he was going to be running one of his youth projects. This was to be a talent show event. I made sure mum knew about it and even popped along to auditions myself. This was always going to be a bent audition, I wanted the "leader" involved. He'd even brought a mate along so we got two for the price of one. I needn't have worried about the bent audition, I stood behind one of the judge's an up and coming rap star and he noted that the "leader" was special. He was in and his mate too.
Over a hundred kids are involved in this 3 nights a week and somehow it's going ahead even though the finances are somewhat lacking at present. I've got control of a small budget and will attempt to divert some that way, if it comes to it I'll put my hand in my own pocket. Some will say why are the police involved in this?, we'd rather have you on the streets instead. They may well have a point - but if it saves the "leader" and others like him maybe it's a worthwhile investment.
I've seen too many go the other way.