A programme aimed at diverting young people away from organised crime will be rolled out in a number of UK cities this year.
Over a three-year period, Action for Children will work with families and schools across the UK to target vulnerable young people, like Kieran*, who was drawn into organised crime at a very early age.
The 19-year-old grew up on a Glasgow estate, rife with drugs and drug dealing and said it was almost natural for him to fall into a criminal way of life. He was not long out of primary school when he came to the attention of organised crime groups and was given drugs to sell. He said:
‘When you live where I did, you didn’t really have a choice, up and down the stairs in the flats I stayed in there were people injecting into their arms. I saw that from the age of five.
‘By 11, I was selling drugs and being paid in cigarettes. It started with cannabis then moved to valium and harder stuff including heroin.
‘I was involved with gangs, battering people, stealing cars to order and selling drugs – it was all about making money. As I got older, if people didn’t pay us, we were sent to their door. It was out of control, however, that’s what we were told to do and if we wanted money, we did it.’
Eventually, as he grew older, the crimes became more serious and violent and the police became involved. Kieran said he knew he needed to break away from his criminal ties and hasn’t looked back since being referred to the Action for Children project. He said:
‘I couldn’t go back there now – the same people are still in control of that estate.
‘It would have been a lot easier to stay where I was and making the money I was, but it was made through violence and drugs. That’s my old life and I’m glad it’s not the life I have now. It’s not the future I want for my family.’
The pioneering project, launched in Glasgow in 2013, is the first of its kind in the UK to use ‘peer mentors’, many of whom are former young offenders, to provide accessible role models for teenagers who have previously resisted other types of mainstream support.
The service will also offer targeted support to 11 to 18-year-olds through intensive one-to-one support, peer mentoring, education and employment training.
A spokesman for Action for Children said that out of 49 young people who participated in the programme in Glasgow, just four continued to offend after receiving support.
Action for Children director for Scotland, Paul Carberry, said: ‘Serious organised crime is an issue for the whole of the UK, disproportionately impacts the more vulnerable in our communities, and has a greater presence in socially and economically disadvantaged areas.
‘Since 2013 this project has worked intensively with more than 70 young people across Glasgow, diverting them away from a life in serious organised crime and into employment.
‘The success from Scotland will lead the way across the UK to help ensure that every child and young person in the country has a safe and happy childhood with the foundations they need to thrive.’
The project will be rolled out in Edinburgh in January, and in Newcastle and Cardiff by April 2020.
Photo Credit – Action For Children