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May 9th 2005

Lancashire police set up early warning system to help young offenders with mental health disorders

Juliet Rix reports
Wednesday November 24, 2004
The Guardian

When Phil Anderton, of Lancashire Constabulary crime prevention unit, made his first visit to Lancaster Farms young offender institution, he was given a guided tour and told it was a "model prison". In many ways it was, he says, except in one major respect: common mental disorders were going unrecognised and untreated. Eighteen months on, there has been a sea change in attitudes, says Anderton. A new screening process is in place, staff are receiving specialist training in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and a care package is being created to support mentally vulnerable young offenders when they are discharged.

Anderton sees this as one of the clearest achievements of a new project, Development Disorders - Achieving Potential (DDAP), an attempt by Lancashire constabulary to tackle the greater likelihood of offending (and reoffending) among young people with ADHD and similar conditions.

The project was born when Anderton, Lancashire's community safety inspector, and crime reduction sergeant Steve Brown were trying to work out how to stem rising juvenile crime. They came across some striking figures: 50% of young people awaiting trial nationally have a mental health disorder (against 10% of the general population). The policemen set out to "have a crack at" tackling the problems.

After much research and analysis, the police set up DDAP in the East Lancashire boroughs of Burnley and Pendle. The project concentrates on ADHD because it is seen as a relatively manageable mental health disorder where early intervention can make a real difference.

"Instead of tackling kids with ADHD [directly] and getting in their faces - a typical police response," says Anderton, "we are approaching the problems around it."

DDAP has brought together local agencies dealing with young people: teachers, social workers, sports providers and the Youth Inclusion Support Programme, known locally as Grip (Group Intervention Panel). Awareness training is being offered and links created so that each agency knows where to find support. A child need be known to only one agency to effectively be in touch with them all.

Judith Gluyas, county manager for Grip, says: "There was a lot of misinformation about ADHD. This project has been helpful in letting agencies know what ADHD is - and what it isn't." She particularly welcomes the "superb" parents' group set up as part of the project. "Grip only works with families for 12 weeks. Now we can refer them on to the parents' group, which is long term."

The second phase of DDAP kicks in if a young person is already in the criminal justice system. Here, the project is working with the Youth Offending Team (Yot), the police and courts, as well as Lancaster Farms young offender institution. Ian Bowring, health worker with the local Yot, says the multiagency approach is working. Barriers are breaking down and everyone is pulling in the same direction.

"I understand much better how these difficulties affect people and I listen more carefully," he says.

Magistrates are being brought in too. A short guide is being written for agencies that use the courts, and so are guidelines for the courts themselves. Simple things are highlighted, such as the value of moving ADHD sufferers up the day's list of cases and giving them regular breaks.

Word of the initiative is spreading. Interest in these booklets has already been expressed by Crown Prosecution Services outside Lancashire. Anderton has spoken to several other forces in recent weeks and more presentations are planned. He has met the Commons ADHD working group.

"We are breaking new ground," he says. While it's too early for statistical proof of an effect on juvenile crime, there is evidence of a culture shift that can hardly fail to be positive.

Lancashire Constabulary is at www.lancashire.police.uk


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