More than 100 young people have engaged with a pilot project delivered by Bedfordshire’s Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit. The initiative is led by Bedfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner Festus Akinbusoye, and aims to help schools tackle persistent absenteeism in the county.
Festus Akinbusoye has made the absenteeism project one of his flagship projects in a bid to reduce the number of young people that could become vulnerable to exploitation by gangs and criminal activity.
In the seven months since the pilot was launched, the VERU’s specialist youth workers have worked with 116 students who were referred into the scheme by school staff.
Every child referred into the programme has engaged with the specialist staff involved, in a bid to understand what is driving their absence from school or college and get them back into the classroom.
Bedfordshire VERU Director Kimberley Lamb, said: “It’s been a fantastic start to the programme, and I thank the PCC for allowing us to partner with him on this landmark project.
“What is important here is that we continue to challenge the notion that these are young people that don’t get up on time for school or are ‘bunking off lessons’.
“The challenges our young people face are complex and at times debilitating. That is where our specialist team come in, working with young people and their parents and carers to understand these issues and nurture them back into experiencing the full benefits of being in education.
“We look forward to continuing on with this project in the future with further help and support from partnership agencies already working in this space.”
Seven education settings across Bedfordshire have been involved in the pilot programme, which provides an early intervention approach to school children with a pattern of unauthorised school absence.
Each student receives tailored, one to one support to better understand the unique challenges that affect their attendance.
Young people can also receive mentoring support, helping them set goals and objectives for their future. Families are also engaged as part of the support provided to the young person.
The package of support does not replace the legal responsibilities of local authorities, but rather extends the level of services available while helping to also plug gaps in provision.
“Early findings from this pilot programme are very encouraging.” Mr Akinbusoye said.
“Having a 100 per cent engagement rate is great, but it is the feedback from the young people, their families, and schools that has been most impressive.
“We’re seeing young people that have not engaged in education for more than six months, now inspired and engaged, applying for college courses, and even aspiring to serve in the army.
”There is evidence that when a young person stays away from a learning environment for long enough, bad things happen. As Commissioner, early intervention and prevention are key priorities for me, and this is what our school absenteeism pilot is all about. I look forward to the full findings of the independent evaluation following the 12-month pilot.”
For more information about the VERU or to refer a young person at risk of violence or exploitation, visit bedsveru.org