How liaison officers help learners make `better life choices'

26th June 2015 at 01:00
Ayrshire College salutes success of police and NHS partnership

Campus police and NHS officers can enhance learning and benefit the wider community, according to the first college to introduce them.

Ayrshire College brought in a police campus liaison officer in 2013 (the role is now held by Lisa Thomson) as a part of scheme jointly funded with Police Scotland - a first in the Scottish further education sector. A year later, Cara Durnie was introduced as addiction liaison officer. Her post is jointly funded with NHS Ayrshire and Arran.

The college has now evaluated the initiative and says it would "definitely recommend" the introduction of liaison officers to other institutions around the country. Not only have the officers delivered tailored classes and workshops covering the latest advice from professionals but they have also broken down barriers between the police, the health service, young people and the wider community, a spokeswoman said.

Police Scotland told TESS that following the success of the scheme, it was thinking about "how this initiative can be developed further and will continue to work with partners in the higher and further education sectors to support our objective of keeping people safe".

Raising awareness

Ayrshire College was formed through the merger of Ayr, Kilmarnock and James Watt colleges in August 2013. The posts were created to support the institution's vision of increasing aspirations, achievement and opportunities, a spokeswoman said.

The two officers run workshops reaching thousands of students, and have also overseen projects such as Respect Week and Alcohol Awareness Week. In addition, they engage with staff, offering training on areas such as social media and internet safety, new psychoactive substances and mental health issues.

Across this academic year, Ms Durnie has delivered a total of 50 drug and alcohol awareness workshops, while Ms Thomson has run 13 workshops on road safety alone. Other topics include hate crime, sexual abuse, blood-borne virus awareness and domestic abuse. The officers are also expanding their repertoire to more areas, including the No Knives Better Lives campaign.

Ms Thomson said the workshops provided students with "accurate information that helps them to have a better understanding of the law and to make better life choices", adding: "It also impacts on the wider community as students will feed the information on to their families and friends."

`A real opportunity'

According to the college, as a result of the programme one student has provided information in a major police enquiry leading to the arrest of three suspects, a second has disclosed an allegation of rape and a third has expressed their concerns about developing an addiction.

This year, the addictions liaison officer has carried out interventions involving 40 students and the police liaison officer has dealt with 50 cases of crime and safeguarding activity. Ms Durnie said "connections and knowledge" had improved, "not only in regard to addiction services but the NHS as a whole".

Chief Inspector Tim Ross, who is responsible for partnerships in North Ayrshire, said providing the campus liaison officer had given the force "a real opportunity to change perceptions of the police among the student population".

"People between the ages of 16 and 19 often have a negative perception of policing," he said. "Having an officer who is able to converse with students on the issues that are relevant to them is a huge benefit to the college and to those young people.

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