'Not about targetting children with special needs' - Bedfordshire's police and crime commissioner defends scheme to tackle school absenteeism

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Bedfordshire's police and crime commissioner has again defended his pilot programme to support schools to tackle persistent absenteeism. v.1

Bedfordshire’s police and crime commissioner, Festus Akinbusoye, has again defended his programme to introduce a “more standardised approach” to school absenteeism.

The PCC told yesterday’s Extraordinary Meeting of Central Bedfordshire Council’s Sustainable Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committee (Monday, June 20) that the programme is not about criminalising young people, or targeting parents who are doing their “damnedest best” to do what is right for their kids.

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The PCC was responding to Maddie Roberts, one of the parents behind the ‘Stop the Schools Bill – don’t prosecute when children can’t, not won’t, go to school’ petition.

PCC Festus AkinbusoyePCC Festus Akinbusoye
PCC Festus Akinbusoye

“How are children’s absences going to be identified between truancy and genuine difficulties?” Ms Roberts asked. “What support will be given to those genuinely in need, how do you intend to get to the root cause?”

Ms Roberts said the 82,000 parents who have signed her petition do not back punishment as a long-term solution.

“Turning up to people’s homes will cause further distress, and as police and crime commissioner do you want a child’s first interactions with the police to be one of intimidation and coercion?” she asked.

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“Forcing children with additional needs or mental health difficulties into mainstream inadequate attendance settings is barbaric.

“You have made your experiences of visiting mainstream settings very well publicised, but how many specialist SENDs have you visited and even consulted with?

“Children and parents’ voices need to be heard, after all it’s our children’s education being missed and our families’ lives being destroyed,” she said.

The PCC replied that there is nothing in his proposals that seeks to criminalise, target or demonise young people who are unable to attend school.

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“This is not about targeting parents who are doing the damnedest best they can to just do what is right for their kids,” he said.

“One thing almost any police officer will tell you is that apart from dealing with mental health, and I repeat again, babysitting kids, they spend a lot of their time looking for missing children.

“These are the kids we are talking about.

“I’m not talking about the young people who have got special education needs, of course not.

“I don’t believe we should be having police officers going to knock on children’s doors because they are not at school.

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“I think we should get people who understand young people, who work with young people, who work with vulnerable young people, to help them to deal with whatever challenges they might be having and maybe even mediate between them and the school in some cases.

“And that is what I’m looking to put into the system here youth intervention workers from our Violence and Exploitation Reduction Unit (VERU) to provide that added support for schools.

“This is about looking out for those young people who unless someone does something to help them they will become a problem for policing.

“Far too much of our police officers’ time is being taken looking out for these kids and the problems that they cause in communities.

“That’s all I’m trying to address here,” he said.