Northampton gangs ‘homing in’ on care leavers

The councillor of the ward in which a teenager was recently shot in Northampton says gangs in the area are recruiting young people leaving care, and that more needs to be done to prevent this.

Wednesday, 9th October 2019, 5:26 pm
Care leavers are being targeted to join local gangs, according to a local Northampton councillor. Photo by Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Councillor Dennis Meredith says that gangs in the Eastern District of the town are ‘homing in’ young adults and children who are leaving the care system. His comments come just over a week after a 16-year-old boy was shot in Thorplands on September 30, suffering serious but non-life threatening injuries. A 15-year-old boy has been arrested and released on bail in connection with the incident, for which police have issued CCTV.

The issue of young care leavers being ‘criminalised’ was discussed at a Northamptonshire County Council cabinet meeting on Tuesday (October 8) as an annual ‘Youth Justice Plan’ was put forward for approval.

Councillor Meredith, a Lib Dem councillor who represents the Talavera ward on both the borough and county council, said: “I have read the report and I think it’s very interesting. But I want to speak on behalf of children in care and children leaving care. I think the report actually doesn’t go far enough, because what I want to see from the Youth Justice Plan is that this organisation will get more hands on and talk more to children in care, and care leavers, to find out what their needs are.

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“I’m saying this because most of you may have heard in the news just recently that there was a shooting in Thorplands, in the area which I represent. A young 16-year-old was shot very seriously. The gangs which are based on the eastern side of the town are homing in on care leavers, and that’s a very important issue for the youth justice system.

“We need to get more hands on and talk to these youngsters before they leave care, that’s what I want to see.”

Reducing the criminalisation of children and young people in care is one of three ‘key’ strategies that the new Youth Justice Plan will be tackling in 2019/20.

The plan calls for local arrangements to be developed to reduce the ‘unnecessary criminalisation’ of looked-after children and care leavers. That task had been delegated to Jean Imray, the assistant director for early help, safeguarding and children’s services, but it was announced this morning [October 9] that she was leaving the county council alongside the head of children’s services Sally Hodges.

Children and young people that were in care or had become care leavers made up 34.3 per cent of Northamptonshire’s youth offending service post court population.

The plan states: “These findings fit with the national picture, that these young people are significantly over-represented within the system. [We will be] ensuring that the circumstances leading to coming into the youth justice system are fully explored, and that they are diverted from the formal system wherever appropriate. Whether or not this is possible, a fully collaborative approach across agencies will be required both in deliveringinterventions and otherwise reducing the potential for them to return.”

Councillor Fiona Baker, the Conservative cabinet member for children’s services on the county council, said she was ‘exceedingly concerned’ about care leavers. She added: “I take on board the councillor’s point. I agree we need to work on this, it’s an area we are working very hard on. But as far as our youth justice board is concerned, we are recognised as being a very high performing service in the country.”

And council leader Matt Golby added: “We’re well aware of the challenges in children’s services, but the Youth Justice Plan and the work being done is a very good service, and we should congratulate them on the work they do in a very challenging area.”

Summing up during his speech, Councillor Meredith added: “We need to go further to stop them getting criminalised. The justice system will not get involved with these children until they come before the courts or the police refer them. Please go and talk to these children.”