South Wales Police programme praised by inspection agency for helping youngsters. James Graham reports
A pioneering youth-training scheme has been credited with cutting rates of crime and anti-social behaviour in parts of South Wales.
Every year the South Wales Police Prince's Trust Volunteer Programme puts up to 270 16 to 25-year-olds with a history of exclusion and truancy through a 12-week foundation-level course. The aim is to develop their self-esteem and sense of community.
The force started running the scheme with the Prince's Trust in 1998 to tackle social exclusion, truancy, unemployment, crime and anti-social behaviour throughout south Wales. It is the only police force in the UK operating this type of franchise contract with the Prince's Trust, the charity set up by the Prince of Wales to help young people from difficult backgrounds.
Figures compiled between 1998-04 showed that two-thirds of participants on the Welsh scheme did not offend within a year of completing the course. In a report, the inspection agency Estyn has heaped praise on the initiative.
It said: "The programme has been very successful in improving the life chances of young people and in reducing anti-social and offending behaviour."
Although most of those who take part have been excluded, have no qualifications and are low on confidence, nearly two-thirds complete it and many find jobs or go on to further education and training.
Volunteers take part in outdoor pursuits, complete work placements and get involved in community projects. One team raised money and bought the materials to improve the grounds of a children's hospice.
Estyn said volunteers made good progress with communication, numeracy and learning how to work with others. The agency praised South Wales Police for forging good partnerships with other organisations and for its planning and management.
In all seven areas of its assessment, from standards of achievement to the use of resources, Estyn awarded grade 2, indicating good features and no important shortcomings.
But inspectors believed opportunities were missed, "that would promote and embed entrepreneurship, sustainable development and aspects of the language and culture of Wales". The report also recommended a greater variety of training strategies and improved information on volunteers' previous achievements in literacy and numeracy. It also said a governance panel should be established to support, review and monitor the programme.
Inspector Jon Lott, of South Wales Police, who manages the scheme, said:
"We're very pleased with the results. A lot of the volunteers have left school with little or no qualifications and this is a chance for them to achieve something and be set on the path of learning."
Sophie Glover, the Prince's Trust's team programme manager for Wales, said:
"A report like this is an indication of how well the scheme is being delivered."