Alcohol Concern have released a new report calling for further action to tackle the link between youth offending and alcohol use.
The report states that up to 41% of young offenders had drunk alcohol at the time of their offence, but many opportunities to identify and support young people around alcohol misuse are being missed. As such it recommends that alcohol misuse must be 'seen and treated as a public health issue, rather than purely a criminal justice issue'.
Specific recommendations relating to prevention and building resilience include:
- All youth workers, school nurses and teachers with pastoral support roles to be trained to deliver Identification and Brief Advice (IBA).
- Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE) should be made statutory in schools, incorporating peer education and specifically addressing alcohol
- Increased funding and recognition to value the important role of diversionary and positive engagement activities using youth work processes.
Recommendations relating to 'Identifying risk and needs, and offering support with health and social interventions' include:
- More effective screening for alcohol in all assessments with young people when they get ‘into trouble’.
- Utilise the Liaison and Diversion trial site to screen for problematic alcohol use in custody suites and refer to appropriate support.
- Refer young people to a recognised “6-week programme” incorporating peer education to address problematic alcohol use
For 'Tracking progress', recommendations include:
- Annual accurate recording of alcohol related offences amongst young people, under 24 years, in London.
- Create a forum or delegate responsibility for on-going involvement of young people reviewing alcohol and young people entering the Criminal Justice System and the effectiveness of alternatives
Young people's drinking - recognising positive trends?
As widely reported, levels of drinking and harms amongst younger groups have declined over recent years. A recent IAS report suggests the main drivers behind the recent falls have been pressures on income as well as improvements in parenting. The report acknowledges these shifts but highlights drinking by children and young people in the UK 'remains well above the European average' and that the majority of 17 year olds do drink alcohol.
Regional differences are also significant, with London typically reporting lower levels of alcohol misuse than elsewhere in the UK. The report also identified that Youth Offending Services in the capital typically considered cannabis and gang involvement as a more significant issue, but alcohol was also identified as a problem within gangs by young people involved in the project. A previous Alcohol Concern report on youth offending in London said alcohol misuse was likely to cluster with other related risks such as poor mental health and negative educational outcomes.
Whatever the direction of trends in young people's drinking, public health roles will see any level of alcohol misuse amongst young people as problematic given the risk factors for later life problems, whilst also recognising the complex wider determinants of health and offending.
A 2011 Joseph Rowntree Foundation report explored Young People, Alcohol and Influences. See here for PHE's recent report on alcohol and young people, the Alcohol Learning Centre, CMO guidance, a post on IBA for young people or all Alcohol Policy UK young people tagged reports.