Youth crime prevention project aimed at city's schoolchildren

Challenges over serious crime are impacting upon the lives of the region's young people, education charities have said, warning early intervention in schools is key to diversion.

Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced funding for a number of projects

Home Office funding totalling nearly £3m has been secured for various projects in the region to tackle rising crime among Yorkshire’s young people, it emerged last week.

Now, as charity Sheffield Futures prepares to work with every student in their first year of secondary across the city, chief executive Gail Gibbons warns this is too big an issue to ignore.

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“We cannot afford to be complacent about this,” said Ms Gibbons. “This is happening here - it is an issue in South Yorkshire.

There is a growing recognition. And while we know that things are shifting it’s important that we keep up with it.”

Ministers have come under intense pressure over efforts to tackle spiralling levels of violent crime nationwide, with many of the schemes approved for funding focused around the influence of so-called ‘county lines’ gangs.

There is an emergence of new child criminal exploitation (CCE), partners across parts of Yorkshire have agreed, with youngsters targeted by gangs.

Coun Jayne Dunn, Sheffield City Council’s cabinet member for education, has previously warned that schools must stop isolating themselves in this issue, working together to bring in a city-wide approach.

And while there is a growing recognition in the region, charities say, there is still some work to be done to acknowledge the dangers it poses.

“Some schools are acutely aware, others are beginning to get on board,” said Ms Gibbons.

“But this is like CSE was a few years ago. We are going through that same journey with child criminal exploitation.

“And while it’s moving in the right direction, there is still a way to go.”

Home Secretary Sajid Javid, confirming that 29 projects nationwide will receive funding, had said the “root cause” of serious violence must be tackled to divert young people from a life of crime.

The Sheffield Futures project, one of several across Yorkshire awarded funding, will work on two strands, through youth work and a focus on education in schools.

Endorsed by crime commissioner Dr Alan Billing, the project aims to host sessions in every secondary school in the city, as well as some primaries.

“We are planning to go into all secondary schools, and some primary schools, to do workshops, assemblies, even lessons,” said Ms Gibbons.

“It’s about getting that message across when it comes to child criminal exploitation, and providing children with a toolkit for knowledge.

“We are trying to prevent and divert. This is about how we can prevent young people from getting involved in crime in the first place.”

Recognition must be made,” Ms Gibbons adds, that this is a safeguarding issue.

“They are children,” she said. “It is shifting, that focus from seeing these young people as badly behaved to one where they are the victims. But we need to look at why young people are getting involved in gangs and carrying weapons in the first place. And what we can do to divert it.”