'Don't blame the kids': Lancashire children are not 'wholly responsible' for violence and criminality, report says

The use of knives by children and teenagers is one of the issues agencies across Lancashire are trying to preventThe use of knives by children and teenagers is one of the issues agencies across Lancashire are trying to prevent
The use of knives by children and teenagers is one of the issues agencies across Lancashire are trying to prevent
Lancashire children who are at risk of serious youth violence and criminal exploitation are sometimes treated as though they have made “fully informed choices” about their actions - when in reality they are too young or vulnerable to do so.

That was one of the findings of a report into how youngsters aged 10 and over are dealt with by agencies including Lancashire Police, Lancashire County Council and the NHS.

It follows a joint area inspection carried out by a range of regulators earlier this year, which also praised the strength and commitment of the partnership of organisations in Lancashire dedicated to tackling the twin issues of violence and exploitation .

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The county’s “strong focus on prevention and early intervention” was highlighted - and if children do end up being detained in police custody, their wellbeing is carefully monitored and they receive “timely support from appropriate adults”.

The adoption of a so-called “trauma-informed” approach - understanding how children’s own negative experiences can manifest themselves - was also singled out as a positive aspect of the services being delivered in Lancashire.

However, almost a dozen recommendations for improvement were made - including the need to recognise children as children.

“Some children’s records include language that is not child centred and, in some cases, is child blaming, demonstrating a lack of understanding of the risks, or of the gravity of the risks, to children," the report noted.

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“Some children are inappropriately viewed by practitioners as making fully informed choices or being wholly responsible for their actions when in fact they are the victims of exploitation by adult perpetrators. This use of language and the misattribution to children of adult levels of understanding and choice-making does not reflect the partnership’s approach to trauma-informed child-centred practice."

The document refers to a case study in which “the extent to which adults were criminally exploiting” one particular child was not fully recognised, with the professionals involved in the assessment of the youngster being “too ready to see [their offending] as an active choice”.

The report also recommended the targeting of services to reflect what it described as “the increase in numbers of children from British Asian backgrounds at risk from serious youth violence and criminal exploitation”.

Meanwhile, it was suggested that there needed to be greater recognition of - an action to address - the “increased vulnerability” of children with special educational needs or neurodiversity in order to avoid their “unnecessary criminalisation”.

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The need to better plan for a young person’s transition from child to adult services was also highlighted - as was a requirement for greater consistency in the approach to youth violence and criminal exploitation across the different partner agencies.

Elsewhere, the partnership was praised for the speed and level of information-sharing between different agencies - particularly district-based teams centred around schools - which enables the development of education programmes to help prevent and respond to risks such as knife crime.

In one example referenced in the report, a significant rise in antisocial behaviour and youth violence in two communities was met with “a range of innovative interventions, including targeted youth groups…youth work with school staff joining in at weekends, and dance and football sessions”. The result was a notable reduction in the problems that had first sparked the action.

It was also noted that there was a "robust response" when children go missing from care or their own homes.

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Responding to the results of the inspection, a spokesman for the Lancashire Local Safeguarding Partnership said that the agencies were “committed to ensuring all children and young people at risk of serious youth violence and criminal exploitation are educated on the risks, diverted from them and protected wherever possible”.

“We are pleased that this is reflected in the [regulators’] letter and that we have been recognised for our trauma-informed approach and our focus on prevention and early intervention.

"While we have areas of real strength, we understand that there is more to be done and we take on board the challenges in this letter.

“Tackling the underlying causes of serious youth violence and safeguarding the small cohort of children in our county who are at risk is of the utmost importance to all key agencies in Lancashire and we will use inspectors' recommendations to shape and improve how we work together in the future."

The inspection was conducted in February by Ofsted, the Care Quality Commission, His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services, and His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation.