Pictured L-R:  Oliver Mercer, Northern Ireland Youth Assembly  Esla Ibrahim, Voice of Young People in Care (VOYPIC) Assistant Chief Constable, Bobby Singleton  Brandan Magee, Voice of Young People in Care (VOYPIC) Eoin McAlpine, Northern Ireland Youth Assembly
Pictured L-R: Oliver Mercer, Northern Ireland Youth Assembly Esla Ibrahim, Voice of Young People in Care (VOYPIC) Assistant Chief Constable, Bobby Singleton Brandan Magee, Voice of Young People in Care (VOYPIC) Eoin McAlpine, Northern Ireland Youth Assembly

The relationship between young people and the police is just one of the priorities that the Police Service of Northern Ireland has pledged to tackle in a new Children and Young People strategy, launched today, Tuesday 13th June.

Over 400,000 young people (under 18s) live locally and so they make up a huge percentage of the community that the Police Service of Northern Ireland serve and protect.

By virtue of their age or circumstance, they can be especially vulnerable and the Police Service has pledged today to be ambitious in ensuring that; children and young people are heard, that they have the opportunity to help shape the future of policing and that they ultimately feel safe.

This important document is aligned with the National Police Chief’s Council guidelines and based on a number of key themes:
Safety and protection
Victims and witnesses
Stop and search

The strategy also takes into account our responsibilities as outlined in the UN Convention on the Right of the Child, acknowledging the importance of giving our children and young people the best start in life.

Children and Young People may encounter the police for a myriad of different reasons and often at difficult times in their lives. In 2021/22 under 18s made up 10.35% of all victims of reported crime in Northern Ireland.

Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton said: “Children and young people are often the unseen victims of many crimes and their voices are not always heard, nor do they feel confident or empowered to speak out. As a police service, we want to work with our partners to change this.

“Northern Ireland and its complex cultural backdrop has meant that we have to work incredibly hard to build trust and confidence within our communities.

“We want young people to know that we are their police service, we are there for them and we take their concerns as seriously as those of adults.”

The Service has taken a number of positive steps already to engage vulnerable young people, including the introduction of community activities. In 2019, the Police Service embarked on a partnership with the Northern Ireland Executive to fund and facilitate local initiatives, including schemes for young people who are potentially vulnerable to paramilitary influence and harm.

Assistant Chief Constable Bobby Singleton added: “Last year £145,000 was invested by the Executive into local engagement activities that included sporting initiatives, video gaming programmes and mentorship schemes. Approximately 700 young people took part in 2022/23.

“The last three years has been an incredibly challenging time for society as a whole, but sometimes it’s easy to forget that our young people have felt the strain just as much. The ongoing cost of living crisis means young people are at even more risk of criminal influence. We don’t want to see more young people losing their future.

“As part of each activity, our local officers have the chance to meet and connect with those taking part. They will listen to any concerns, and offer advice on some of the issues currently affecting our young people, steering them away from negative choices.

“We want to build on this, it’s important that our core service works for young people too. For this strategy we have really taken a lead from those who work with young people and young people themselves, and looked at ways we can improve based on their views and experiences.”

Welcoming the publication of the Strategy, Policing Board Chair Deirdre Toner said: “As a Board, we welcome this strategy and the commitments that have been given by the policing service for their interactions and engagement with children and young people. The rights of children and young people need to be respected and protected, and this is an area of work that the Board will continue to keep under close review through its oversight work and through that of its Human Rights Advisor.”

The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children & Young People’s Chief Executive Mairead McCafferty stated: “I welcome this Strategy because of its focus on commitments by the Police Service to have a positive approach to policing where children and young people are concerned. I particularly welcome the Chief Constable’s commitment to the Police Service’s responsibilities as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.  In all encounters with the police, children should be treated as children and their rights, welfare and wellbeing prioritised in accordance with the UNCRC. The strategy outlines areas of importance that can contribute to confidence in policing. It also highlights the importance of genuine engagement i.e. listening to children and young people and respecting their views, experiences and opinions – a prerequisite to developing positive relationships. I look forward to seeing it put into practice.”

The Police Service have committed to continuing to develop their engagement with young people and will be working this year to plan and put in place mechanisms for them to feed their concerns and opinions directly to local officers so they may help shape the future of the service.

For more information or to read the Police Service’s new strategy in full, you can access it here: https://www.psni.police.uk/safety-and-support/keeping-safe/children-and-young-people-strategy