Young people who find themselves in police custody in Merseyside will now be offered help from Childline, in an initiative that is the first of its kind in the UK.
Those under the age of 19 are being offered a confidential call to the NSPCC service to provide advice and support, which Merseyside police said could “break the cycle of reoffending”.
Children and young people who are detained by police are already entitled to extra support in addition to what is given to adults but they do not always accept it.
Some do not view anything offered to them by police as impartial or confidential and fear asking for help or advice because they worry they will get themselves or friends and relatives into trouble.
This means they can end up being released without getting the support they need “and then reoffending, beginning the cycle again”, Merseyside police said.
Childline will “fill the gaps” for those young people.
The idea for the initiative came from Deborah Rigby, a retired Merseyside police officer who is now a supervisor at Childline in Liverpool, who noticed that the work the charity does could help young people in crisis who come into custody. She worked with constable Christopher Beedle from prevention, who saw the potential in a collaboration with Childline.
Every child entering police custody has their details passed to social services to establish any vulnerabilities and ensure appropriate safeguarding is in place.
They are entitled to mental health support but, depending on age, it may need to be approved by a parent or carer.
Under the Children Act, girls are also entitled to a nominated female officer.
By offering a confidential call to Childline while in custody and a leaflet about Childline on discharge, police and the charity hope the young person may accept support they otherwise would have turned down.
In the last six months Merseyside police has seen 787 young people come into custody and the service has the potential to make a difference to many young lives and put them back on to the right path, the force said.
Beedle said: “Prior to the official launch, custody staff have been proactively raising awareness of the confidential support Childline offer to young people. Our aim is to ensure that any young person who enters custody receives the right support that has the potential to make a huge difference to their lives and stop them reoffending.”
Childline was set up in 1986 by television presenter Esther Rantzen and became part of the NSPCC in 2006. More than 1,300 volunteer counsellors answer calls and emails from children who need help or are in crisis.
The charity hopes the partnership will introduce counsellors to children they would not have otherwise had contact with.
Rigby added: “As a former police officer, I have first-hand experience of working with children in custody and I know what a difference a service like this could make to their lives.”
A number of other forces have expressed an interest in the initiative and it may be extended across the country during the next 12 months.
(Source: The Guardian)