For children up and down the country, starting high school means growing up, and taking on a whole new world of friends and role models. Unfortunately, not all these influences are good ones.
Police officers in Sandwell, West Midlands, were worried that primary school leavers in their boroughs were at risk from harms linked with local gangs, including exposure to exploitation, knife crime and drugs. They came up with their own solution to meet the problem head on, early on.
‘Choices’ is a hard-hitting book, designed and illustrated by local community police leads. The story is told through the eyes of a young person, just beginning secondary school. The book offers the reader choices, with the decisions made determining which page to turn to next.
The tool can be read by children, young people and their parents alike to demonstrate how sometimes even small moments impact our lives. The Choices book and learning programme is now part of Sandwell's education offer and is a great example of what can be achieved when local services build close relationships. Police officers, teachers and project leads have together facilitated the changes needed to take the Choices book from a brainwave to a key tool for Sandwell's schools and safeguarding services.
PC Jon Hewett, Education Partnership Officer, Sandwell, West Midlands Police Force: “We had noticed that there was very little early intervention for primary schools about the different elements of child criminal exploitation. Nick and I discussed what we could do to help - and settled on a ‘choose your own adventure’ style book. After several hundred post-it notes, we decided on the themes and designed the story from real cases investigated by our team. Once the story was complete, we approached Steve Tidman, local artist and ex-Special Constable, to illustrate the stories. Our team used the relationships built over the past few years with the local authority and schools to set about trialling it in classes and with early help services. The rest is history!”
Antoinette Jackson, Assistant Principal and Designated Safeguarding Lead, Bristnall Hall Academy, Sandwell: “I often meet with Jon, as part of the wider service collaboration in Sandwell. He introduced me to the Choices toolkit which immediately captured my attention. We rolled the programme out to our Year 7 and 8 students who worked really well with it. The Choices programme is a fantastic tool, easy for staff to deliver whilst capturing the interest of young people, especially as the children know the scenarios are true. Collaborative working is essential in eradicating the serious violent crime locally, where so many lives of young people and families are devastated. I’m grateful to our Police team for supporting the school community and will continue to work with them on protective behaviours. Academies and schools are the second tier of family and for some children the only family environment they have access too. We must never underestimate the power we have to positively influence young people. It's an absolute privilege to be Assistant Principal at Bristnall Hall Academy and lead on Safeguarding where we have a whole academy ethos in ensuring the safety, welfare and care of young people and inspire them in making positive choices. In times where serious violent crime is at its most prevalent and where young people are too often the victims, it's critical we act in partnerships locally - now.”
Jorden Fairfax, Project Manager for Supporting Families Against Youth Crime, Sandwell: "I first encountered the Choices book in October 2019. I took it home and “played” along as my 15-year-old self, who back many years ago definitely felt they knew everything! I was shocked to find myself in serious trouble within a few pages. Choices has helped me open many honest conversations with a variety of at-risk young people and their families in Sandwell. It is a fantastic way to explore concerns facing our young people. I now use this frequently in my project work on knife crime prevention and find it amazing how different each Choices session can be. It’s fantastic for being child-led, and I honestly could not imagine working without this now.”
Young people in a Year 8 class, Bristnall Hall Academy
“I really liked doing this, I didn’t know that just one wrong choice could lead somewhere so bad. I’ll think about what I say yes and no to more now”
“That was really good, I can’t believe I got caught!”
A parent accessing Sandwell’s support services.
“This book is amazing! I thought my child knew better, but it shows them just how little something can be that lead to lots of trouble...”
If you are a professional interested in using the Choices toolkit, please contact the Sandwell Partnerships team, West Midlands Police at firstname.lastname@example.org