Social workers put ‘an arm round’ youngsters in police custody

Project to support arrested 10- to 17-year-olds is being extended

Friday, 20th May — By Harry Taylor

VRU, Met and ENGAGE staff and Cllr Shah - cropped

From left: Det Supt Brittany Clarke from the Met Police’s Violent Crime Taskforce, Emmanuel Umeh, Lib Peck, director of London’s Violence Reduction Unit, Cllr Nadia Shah, Abdulkadir Arshe, Engage youth and community worker, and Chief Inspector Russell Hughes

SOCIAL workers being sent into custody suites to speak to young people who are under arrest are helping change lives and stop them falling to gangs and bad behaviour, according to the head of a project.

Chief Inspector Russell Hughes, who heads up the Engage programme between the Metropolitan Police, City Hall and Camden Council, was speaking at Holborn police station on Wednesday, where it was announced that the scheme would be extended to other boroughs after a pilot in Camden and Islington.

It focuses on speaking to youngsters aged between 10 and 17, who have been arrested, in what Met chiefs call a “reachable moment”.

Specially trained youth workers, who are not officers, are sent into cells to work with young people. They can be offered training, support and guidance in a bid to stop them falling into crime and becoming repeat offenders.

Chief Insp Hughes was joined by some of the social workers and an 18-year-old from Camden who has benefitted from the scheme.

He said: “This is a long-term approach working across a few years with some people, and that’s what is needed for them. I’m really pleased that we’re supporting young people in this way so they can lead a life free from crime, and in that moment sometimes they need somebody who is not a police officer, not a parent, and can be an ally and make them sit back and assess.”

One young man said he ended up in custody while hanging out with a friend and walking near the Church Street area of Westminster, when his friend saw someone he had previously fallen out with, and pulled out a knife.

After videos taken by the public were passed on to police, he was identified and arrested.

He said: “I was just thinking, ‘what is my mum going to say?’ When I was in the cell I was just thinking ‘I don’t ever want to be in here again’. It just touches you. It is scary, it is strange, and it’s uncomfortable.

“I met [youth worker] Abdi and he talked to me about school, and he taught me about consequential thinking, where if you’re about to do something, you think about the consequences and it will stop you doing it.

He gave me some techniques to deal with mental health and how to focus on school and stay away from that type of people who could get me into trouble.”

He is now sitting his A-levels and is hoping to university later this year.

One of the social workers, Emmanuel Umeh, who started with the project when it began in 2019 said: “When you’re going into the cell, you are thinking about how to break through to them and get them talking. It might be talking about TV, or music, or football, or even asking if they want something to eat or drink.

“They might want a book or something. You are just thinking ‘will I be able to build this relationship?’ “I’ll look through the window and see how they’re looking, if it looks like they want to talk. Often they do.

“You share a little bit of yourself, and who you are with your experiences, especially being that age, you think about what they might be interested in, if they’re creative, for example.”

Camden’s crime chief Councillor Nadia Shah said: “The scheme provides an arm around a shoulder and something that really needed to happen, something that was missing, and we’ve seen so many good outcomes.”

Related Articles