Page last updated at 15:28 GMT, Tuesday, 15 July 2008 16:28 UK

Keeping teenagers out of trouble

By Bob Walker
Midlands reporter, BBC News

Young boys share a cigarette on UK council estate
The Youth Inclusion Projects identify at-risk teenagers

Some of the proposals contained in the government's Youth Crime Action Plan, unveiled on Monday, are already being used in Nottingham to keep young people out of trouble.

Ian is a powerfully built, shaven-headed man. He lives on one of the more difficult council estates in the north of the city.

But even Ian admits he has trouble coping with his teenage son who has an aggressive attitude borne out of autism, which went undiagnosed for too long.

"He thinks he's the man of the house now and we're having arguments again," says Ian.

"Sometimes I just have to walk away because I feel I want to hit him."

However, the behaviour of Ian's son improved markedly when he became involved with the Youth Inclusion Project (Yip) based in and around the estate.

Risk factors

The simple yet challenging philosophy is to identify about 50 young teenagers in the area who are at risk of getting into trouble and becoming enmeshed in a life of crime.

UK council estate generic
The projects have helped youths in several Nottingham council estates

This is done at meetings involving a range of agencies including social services, police, education officials and Crime Concern - the charity which runs Yips across the city.

Risk factors include truancy, a sibling who may have been in trouble or a troubled family background.

A mentor or key worker is then assigned to work closely with the young person and their family.

They receive help in school, on trips out and weekends away, as well as in education and team-building workshops based at a nearby youth centre. Good behaviour leads to rewards.

Dawn's three children have been through the programme. They now all have responsible jobs and one has even become a mentor to another troubled child.

Prevention work

She admits she was wary when first asked to let her children take part in the Yip.

"There was a sense of worry to start off with because I thought they'd identified my children as being the ones that were the anti-social behaviour kids," she says.

There's trouble and tension on the street but when they come to Unity [football project] everyone gets on really well

"But they aren't - and when they explained it's not kids that are out of control, it's just to stop them going out of control, I understood that it was all right then."

Darren, her partner, cannot speak too highly of the programme and the workers based there. He thinks prevention work should start with five year olds.

"If I had the money I would donate it to the fund," he says.

"If they haven't got the money, what's it going to be like in 10 years time? Without funds I dread to think what it'll be like.

"The up-and-coming kids are only going to follow the bad kids on the estate and it's just going to get worse."

Sporting chance

Far to the south on a different estate, a bunch of burly teenagers are playing football against a local college team.

Football generic
Unity brings rival gangs together on the same team

These children, aged between 14 and 16, are wearing shirts bearing the team name Unity.

From the sideline their coach Maurice Samuels is shouting enthusiastic support as they take on teenagers who are, on average, two years older.

These children predominately come from three areas of Nottingham - the Meadows, Radford and St Ann's, and that is significant because groups from those areas were at one time engaged in bitter fighting - even involving fatal shootings.

But Unity is aiming to tackle that as part of another early intervention strategy. Again, all the participants are identified as being potentially at risk. They are involved in educational projects as well as football.

Early intervention

Mr Samuels is keen to extend the scheme to even younger children.

And on this small rectangle of grass things seem to be working.

Anton and Habib agree it brings people from different areas together and makes them realise they have much in common.

"Everyone's just like a family here to tell you the truth, everyone is treated equally," says Habib.

"There's trouble and tension on the street but when they come to Unity everyone gets on really well and you wouldn't know any different really," adds Anton.

This is just one small sign, perhaps, that early intervention can work in some cases and that prevention is in many ways infinitely better - and much cheaper - than finding a cure.

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