Nottingham tackles Asbo culture with early action

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The Independent Online

It has been called the gun crime capital of the UK and has languished at the bottom of the education league tables, but now Nottingham is transforming its fortunes with a groundbreaking early intervention project to tackle Asbo culture.

Nottingham has become the UK's first "early intervention" city with the launch of a unique package of measures to break the cycle which condemned its poorest children to educational failure and a life of crime.

Nottingham is one of the most prosperous cities in Britain, yet has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in the country and sends the lowest proportion of its youngsters to university.

The new scheme aims to identify children at risk and help them at the earliest possible age, to stop them becoming Nottingham's future "problem citizens".

The projects include intensive support help for teenage mothers, who will receive one-on-one guidance from a dedicated health visitor to help them interact with their child.

Nottingham is piloting a scheme based on a successful US-programme developed by Professor David Olds of the University of Colorado, which ensured that first-time, low-income mothers received visits by a nurse from the start of their pregnancy until their child's second birthday.

Graham Allen, Labour MP for Nottingham North and chairman of One Nottingham, the partnership pioneering the project, believes intervention should begin before birth for children at risk of disaffection and underachievement.

"This isn't just a nice add on for babies and mums, he says. "The long-term impact will be improved education attainment, better skill levels, fewer teen pregnancies, lower crime and drug use, and stronger communities."

Primary school pupils will be taught how to discuss their feelings and empathise with other people. The £1m programme of lessons has been introduced in the city's primary schools to help children express feelings, rather than resort to violent confrontation.

Chris Turner-Rowe, head of Rosslyn Park primary school, which serves one of Nottingham's most deprived estates, said that the lessons, Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning (Seal), had already improved his pupils' behaviour and achievement.

"A lot of our children come in with very poor speaking ability and very poor concentration," Mr Turner-Rowe said. "We have a lot of problems with attendance because a lot of our parents lead very chaotic lives and find it difficult to get their children up and out the door for school. We have some children whose behaviour can be violent.

"This is the second year we have run Seal and it has been fantastic. These children need help in dealing with the emotions that bubble up inside them. For some children, school is the most stable part of their week. If emotional issues are not dealt with, their learning will be affected."

The partnership behind the package also wants every 11-year-old in Nottingham to be taught about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. Nottingham officials hope that early assistance will help youngsters to avoid antisocial behaviour. Jon Collins, the leader of the Labour-controlled Nottingham City Council, said: "We are looking for a long-term answer to some of the social issues that we have in Nottingham. A lot of what we do is dealing with the symptoms of these problems. Now we have a chance to tackle the root causes of problems like violent crime and antisocial behaviour."

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