POLICE and councils across Scotland do not share the popular belief that young people hanging around the streets at night present a major crime risk. Young people's safety is of greater concern.
A Children in Scotland study of five police forces and 17 councils found almost unanimous agreement on the need for more places for young people to meet. But youth cafes or clubs have to be planned with young people if they are to succeed, it says.
The study of child safety initiatives comes only a week after Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, introduced tough legislation south of the border to crack down on youth crime, with local authority powers to bring in curfews. An independent evaluation by researchers at Stirling University on the Hamilton "curfew" is due shortly.
The Children in Scotland survey reveals that five of the 17 councils interviewed and three of the five police forces, in rural and urban areas, report no problem with children and young people out at night. Others say there are occasional problems.
Those who do express concern list youth disorder and drinking as the top priorities, followed by young people's safety and welfare. Youth crime came last.
Just over half of the councils and one of the five police forces are concerned about young people hanging around drinking and causing disruption.
Police and councils say the problem is with adults' perception of young people. One policemen comments: "Sometimes the complaint that we get will simply be that young people are there, which is sad but we do get that complaint. On occasion, it's simply the fact that they are a group, not that they are being noisy, not that they are doing anything wrong, just the fact that they are there."
Dr Birgit Jentsch, the report's author, says young people on the streets are regarded with suspicion. "Such images seem outdated at a time when easily accessible media and videos can provide 'entertainment' at home unsuitable for children and when there is awareness that the family can also be a place of abuse and violence. Rather than condemning streets as places which children should avoid, a case can be made for involving people, young and old, in shaping the public environment, so that they can 'reclaim the streets'. "
"Children on the streets - villains, victims or just children? A study of Child Safety Initiatives in Scotland" is published by Children in Scotland, Princes House, 5 Shandwick Place, Edinburgh EH2 4RG (0131 228 8484).