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Mediation route on the right path

The fate of many projects working with young people is in the balance, just as their value in fighting crime is being recognised.

In France the approach to youth crime prevention is different. There, the philosophy is that society has failed the young offender rather than the other way round.

Specialist social workers are employed to mediate with mainstream youth and education services to integrate young people back into society. A national network of outreach workers enables youngsters in trouble to be coaxed back on to the straight and narrow, with their agreement and with the help of their schools, youth clubs and other services.

Underlying the work are three principles: that delinquent teenagers should be shifted away from offending and back towards "normal behaviour" within society; that all the work should be carried out with their express agreement; and that all matters which pass between the social worker and youngster should be strictly confidential.

No information can be passed to schools, to police, family or other agencies without the permission of the young person involved.

It's an approach which avoids labelling young offenders within specialist programmes and strengthens the purpose of existing facilities, such as youth clubs, schools and other services, says Bill Walden-Jones, manager of NACRO's youth activities unit.

"The French approach acknowledges that it's the mainstream, general provider, not the criminal justice agencies, which hold the key to reducing youth crime."

A pilot scheme modelled on the French system in two Brixton council estates - backed by Department of Health money - is already demonstrating the benefits of this approach.

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