Ministers target badly behaved children in £218m crime scheme

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Indy Politics

Hundreds of children displaying anti-social behaviour will be targeted by youth workers under government plans to cut crime.

Up to 1,000 of the most "challenging" youngsters will have to sign behaviour contracts and agree to get help to keep them from a life of crime, under the proposals unveiled yesterday by Ed Balls, the Secretary of State for Children.

Under the £218m scheme, "assertive and persistent" youth workers will take on children as young as 10 who show early warning signs of getting into trouble, such as repeatedly skipping lessons and behaving badly. Those who refuse to accept help will face court orders or antisocial behaviour orders.

Opposition MPs criticised the measures as "sticking-plaster schemes" and "fiddling around the edges". But ministers insisted that the youth task-force action plan would tackle the underlying causes of antisocial behaviour such as family breakdown and substance misuse.

Beverley Hughes, the minister for Children, said: "We know the best form of cure is prevention. We can spot early warning signs in young people and families where things are going wrong; poor parenting, lessons skipped, and complaints about behaviour.

"We need tough action on the underlying problems, alongside tough enforcement. Intervening early and requiring young people and their parents to address the causes as well as the behaviour itself, will both prevent antisocial behaviour and deal with it more effectively."

Twenty local authorities will make bids to establish projects to target children at risk, and a further £60m will be spent on efforts to improve parenting.

The strategy was welcomed by teachers' leaders. Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Britain's largest teaching union, said: "A programme of early intervention is the obvious route. Some of our youngsters lead desperate lives. It is essential that strategies to tackle the worst behaviour both inside and outside of schools moves on to the front foot."

The strategy came under immediate fire from the opposition. James Brokenshire, Tory home affairs spokesman, said: "Yet again the Government has decided to fiddle around at the edges. It is further evidence of their failure to face up to the reality of broken families, broken communities and a fractured country.

"If they think parachuting in short-term help for a thousand troubled kids is the answer to the problems on Britain's streets they are deluding themselves."

David Laws, the Liberal Democrats' children's spokesman, said: "It is depressing that a government in power for almost 11 years is still coming up with these sticking-plaster schemes. How effective will this scheme, which is only going to cover 1,000 children in 20 areas, be when we know tens of thousands of children need both extra support and extra discipline? There is a serious risk Asbos for young children won't work and they will instead be regarded as a badge of honour... We need a much closer working relationship between all schools and local children's services, so young people in every school at risk of going off the rails can get help early."