RUNNING away from home, running out of school, getting into trouble and getting arrested...
Police say Blackpool has more badly-behaved youngsters entering the criminal justice system for the first time than anywhere else in Lancashire, getting themselves permanent criminal records before they even hit adulthood.
It was the path that one girl, now aged 15, could easily have followed.
The teenager, from North Shore, who asked to remain anonymous, was just 13 when she came to the police’s attention.
She said: “I was going round to a paedophile’s house – but I didn’t know he was a paedophile – getting myself intro trouble. I missed lots of school and I kept going missing.
“Then I got arrested.”
It was the girl’s mum who called the police after an “incident” at home.
The phone call – and the teenager’s subsequent arrest – was to prove a crucial moment.
She was not charged with a criminal offence, but was introduced to Blackpool police’s Offending Prevention Team for the first time.
The team was set up just over a year ago in a bid to reverse the statistics and stop 10 to 17-year-olds getting a criminal record – and the girl is in no doubt the help of youth involvement worker Donna Spedding has turned her life around.
She first met Donna after being excluded from school for three days.
She added: “When I met her at first I didn’t want to speak to her, I didn’t want anything to do with her and I was really nasty.
“But after a while I got used to it, we went to Stanley Park cafe and spoke about everything and from there she just helped me sort my head out.
“Now me and my mum hardly ever argue, I go to school all the time and I’ve not been missing from home in nearly nine months. I want to go on to college and university now.”
Her mum’s view of the situation is frank – without the team’s help, she would have lost her daughter to “not good people.”
She said: “If you had known my daughter 18 months ago and met her today you would not believe the difference. I’ve got my daughter back.
“If I had not had the help I have had from everyone I don’t think she would be with me.”
The four case workers on the Offending Prevention Team all have a caseload of around 50 young people.
They talk to the youngsters about crime and the consequences of their actions, mediate in family and school disputes and help introduce them to activities which can change their lives for the better.
Youth involvement worker Lyndsay Milligan said: “I worked with a young person who was coming to police attention, was involved with child protection and had a very chaotic home life.
“I got him into boxing, his home life settled down, the child protection issue closed and now he is back with mum and not coming to police attention.”
The team agree every case they deal with is different. Sgt Steve Hodgkins, community safety sergeant for Lancashire Police, said: “It’s a really complex puzzle and there’s no billboard answer to helping young people in Blackpool.
“A lot of the young people are challenging, disruptive and causing problems in the community but the majority are making mistakes and it’s our job to help them learn from those mistakes, not just throw away the key.”
The force sees investment in the Offending Prevention Team as a “long-term” measure to help reduce crime in the future.
Chief Insp Gary Dunnagan, who oversees the team, said: “We would rather do the prevention work and keep children and young people out of the criminal justice system, because at the end of the day there are no winners in the criminal justice system.”