Our debate on June 16, the 47th Woking Debate, was attended by 49 people, who participated on Zoom. Our first speaker was Sian Jones, the Early Help Project Lead and Programme Manager (North) for Surrey Care Trust. She oversees the charity’s mentoring work with families in Spelthorne, Woking, Elmbridge and Runnymede and also leads on its counselling service. She began by describing the services available locally from the trust. There is an organic mentoring and counselling service for young people with volunteers at a centre for those aged 14 to 16 and a family centre for under-11s. Allotments and a work boat provide important places to further skills and help children reach their potential. Early intervention is important for children to develop fully their relationships and confidence to overcome neglect and abuse, Sian said. Financial challenges are a problem. When children feel safe, they can build trust but are we doing this? The Police and Crime Commissioner for Surrey, David Munro, gave the answer “yes and no” to the question but ultimately “no”. There are about 20,000 children in Woking and they have a spectrum of needs. He was in Woking with operational police officers two years ago when they were called out to a park where three young people were engaged in anti-social behaviour. They were searched and no drugs were found, but they were surly and unco-operative. It was a depressing experience. They were not engaging with their community and their future chances were poor. Drug dealing is potentially very profitable, and easy option for young people instead of them finding a job. Surrey has low custodial records for young people, as the county tries hard to keep them from getting a criminal record. But by the time troublesome young people come to the attention of the police it is often too late to really help them, and some seem impossible to help. The Safer Woking Partnership was set up to help reduce crime in our area by promoting crime prevention initiatives and protecting the most vulnerable people in the community. The Surrey Police force is expanding its staff numbers and community police are attached to schools. There are many agencies and people longing to help. How can we help people at the right time? The police exist to prevent anti-social behaviour often caused by young people. The third speaker was Justin Price, headteacher of Freemantles School at Mayford, which is dedicated to children with autism. At present it has 195 pupils and is expanding to 270 places. The school aims to teach the children how to understand social interaction. Many people with autism do end up in prison which is an easier place to be, as they are told all the time what to do. Justin sees part of his role as getting society to understand autism better and gives talks about the condition. Children with autism are easily led
LEFT: Justin Price. BELOW: Jenny Griffiths and Susan Harris, who asked questions of the speakers.
as they have no filters. There are far too many children with special needs than there are places available in special schools. Surrey had many good special schools, but they have huge resource problems and the county budget is too small. Families with children are really struggling, particularly at this time of the coronavirus pandemic. Some families have two or even three children with autism and they have complicated social needs. Anxiety is a constant for them which triggers fight or flight responses. The situation has improved in society as more people have developed an understanding but there is a long way to go. The more freedom they have the more vulnerable they become, and they become targets for grooming for sex or drugs. Freemantles tries to support the parents as well as the children. Volunteers are really important, the speakers agreed. There are 65 mentors in Woking working with Surrey Care Trust. Freemantles School works with the National Autistic Society. The police work with the voluntary sector. Ed Lyons, from the Surrey Safer Police Protection Team, contributed his views. He said the team looks at every child who comes in contact with the police and use SPOC – a Single Point of Contact. Many facilities for young people have been closed. Woking Borough Council does has not enough money, yet outreach services are being provided. Youth workers and police visited the parks and police officers are as firm as they need to be, and as kind as they can be. Justin emphasised the importance of the children’s centres that have now mostly closed and were doing such an important job. Sian reminded us that we still have the young careers groups, but it is the under-11s that are missing out. Surrey Police has youth engagement officers. One is in post in Woking and another post will be filled shortly, as the current holder is on maternity leave. The entire team of police officers have a responsibility to engage with young people. Restorative justice was discussed on the suggestion of a participant. The aim is to bring the perpetrator in contact with the victim. It has been increasingly used in Surrey. David thought the principle was important, but it is costly to carry out and he had seen no evidence that it made a real difference, although it can be useful to the victim in coming to terms with what has happened. At Freemantles, the problem is
whether the children have the level of understanding to put it into practice. In response to a question on whether the curriculum is too exam orientated Justin thought this was definitely true. At his school, they concentrate on essential support and working out what happiness would be like for each individual. Life skills are so important. He gave an example of a high functioning autistic young man who got a place at university but who never washed or changed his clothes while he was there and quickly became very isolated. Emotional wellbeing leads to resilience and then children can learn academically for exams. The referral system for children is too slow it was agreed. Many of the referrals to CAMS – Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality – are to the wrong service. There is a need for a mentor and a project is starting in April to improve the situation. At present, children referred with autism can end up with a fortnightly appointment, which is not enough to build trust into the relationship. Mediation Surrey runs an Intergenerational Service to help families understand each other’s needs, it was said. Basic skills need better funding. It was thought that the system in Woking deals with child asylum seekers well. In conclusion, all three speakers talked about the need for early intervention, more resources and the important role of volunteers.