Bedfordshire’s police and crime commissioner, Festus Akinbusoye has “reassured” parents and carers of SEND (special educational needs) children for the “hundredth time” that they’re not going to be getting a knock on the door for unauthorised absence from school.
The PCC was responding to a question about the unauthorised absence from school pilot scheme from councillor Amanda Dodwell (Central Bedfordshire) during yesterday’s Bedfordshire Police and Crime Panel (Tuesday 12 July).
The scheme will be using experienced youth workers from the Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU) to visit pupils at home on the same day of an unauthorised school absence.
Councillor Dodwell listed various reasons for a child being absent from school, such as family holidays and bullying.
“Other children perhaps have got special educational needs and sometimes they’re diagnosed, and sometimes they’re undiagnosed,” she said.
“[Who] would actually be contacting parents when their child is absent from school, what training those staff would have,” she asked.
“I know you have seen all the coverage on Facebook etc, but I’d like the scheme to work in a way that is sensitive and works with parents to ensure children are in school,” she said.
The PCC replied: “This is one of the probably most repeated lines I’ve used in the last couple of months, I think I even say it in my sleep now.
“There’s nothing in this persistent unauthorised absenteeism initiative that is designed to criminalise, that it is designed to penalise, that it is designed to finger point at parents of children with special education needs.
“A massively disproportionate number of young people that the police come in to contact with, the young people who the police have to sit down with over and over and over again for hours and hours and hours, the young people who are involved in serious organized crime or involved in knife crime.
“A lot of them have had persistent absenteeism in their back-story,” he said.
“And they are not children with special education needs, some have, some don’t.
“And I just want to reassure parents and carers again for the hundredth time, that they’re not going to be getting a knock on the door.
“Now, of course, if their child has been involved in criminality, then that’s not going to be the Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit dealing with it, it will be the police dealing with that, regardless of the crime has been committed,” he explained.
“The objective of this [scheme] is to ensure that we do not keep seeing this increase in the number of young people coming to contact with the criminal justice system.
“I am very, very worried about the number of young people in Bedfordshire who are coming through our custody.
“This is a disturbing trend,” he said.
“It will be successful and I look forward to the support of councillors and parents alike.
“Because it’s ultimately about safeguarding our children, keeping them in school, supporting school, and supporting local authorities’ efforts to keep children in school as well,” he said.
by John Guinn
Local Democracy Reporter