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Pupils will be sent for therapy

Big Lottery grant finances pioneering project to tackle bad behaviour from the age of eight

primary teachers will be asked to refer badly-behaved children for therapy as part of a pioneering project in Neath Port Talbot.

Reports of worsening behaviour by pupils as young as eight has led a Welsh council to establish CHIP, an inclusion project for children, with the help of a Big Lottery grant worth almost pound;1 million.

Volunteers are currently being recruited for the start of the scheme in June. They will be expected to act as mentors and positive role models, something which the children might not get at home.

Officials hope the results will help them to draw up statistical evidence on factors common to children who show early signs of anti-social behaviour. Early intervention has long been touted as a move towards reducing disaffection among young people.

However, some education teaching unions have already expressed concerns over how far their members should intervene in an area traditionally the domain of social services. But Russell Ward, Neath Port Talbot council's head of education and lifelong learning, said the project could prove vital in reducing teenage offending.

"This is about early intervention and taking a long-term approach," he said.

"We will provide mentoring to ensure there is a positive adult and peer-based role model for each stage of the child's development."

Individual plans will be drawn up to help children identified under the scheme.

It is hoped underlying reasons for bad behaviour, such as a poor home environment or an undiagnosed special need, will be detected. The council has already summoned an anti-social review group targeting older youngsters, but the ethos of CHIP is that prevention is better than cure, and the earlier the better.

Mr Ward said: "The volunteer mentors will interact with the youngsters, listen to what they are saying, and try to improve behaviour by placing them in peer groups which will be positive and supportive.

"This is not about losing the more rigorous edge in terms of the involvement of our youth offending team. We will start to target youngsters aged eight to 13 - our core group - before transition to secondary school.

"However, identifying those youngsters is not easy and children under 10 are not deemed to be criminally liable."

The results could prove invaluable in turning around anti-social behaviour.

"There is a hidden issue here which the project is seeking to tackle, and that is when a youngster actually starts to offend, said Mr Ward.

"What we are trying to do is systematically understand which children are at risk and why."

The plan is to take on 420 children and 300 families.

Mr Ward added: "We need to understand which children are at risk. They might have poor attendance at school, or there may be concerns over parenting issues and health problems.

"There may be something else picked up on by local voluntary youth groups."

If the project is successful, other Welsh councils could follow, especially in areas with deprivation and social exclusion.

Neath Port Talbot council leader Derek Vaughan said the project is about giving disadvantaged youngsters a better start.

"This lottery grant will help the council considerably to put plans into place, not only to identify those children at risk of offending but of intervening at an early stage to prevent anti-social behaviour," he said.

"Research shows that absence of support at this early stage means that children become more socially excluded and their life chances are seriously affected."

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