How games are helping stop children getting caught up in crime

“Short, snappy, fun games” are being used in Wirral schools to help stop children from getting caught up in crime.

In the Zone is a partnership between Wirral Council, Merseyside Police, the Probation Service, and community organisation Catch 22, bringing a different approach to issues around exploitation, knife crime, criminal gangs, drugs, alcohol, and safety on the internet.

Sessions are being held with schools across Wirral using interactive games similar to Pac-Man, Monopoly, and Trivial Pursuit to learn about online safety and what to do in a situation if someone is stabbed or choking after drinking. In the Zone is one of two projects along with Operation Inclusion looking to prevent crime among young people.

Since the programme was rolled out two years ago, a Wirral Council annual youth justice plan said there has been a nearly 27% reduction in young people entering the justice system this year, the highest drop in Merseyside and at odds with a 2% increase across the country.

In one session, children learned about the true story of Jay, 15, who was exploited and the use of burner phones where organised crime groups can earn £750,000 to £1m per phone with 50 to 60 county lines operating in Wirral.

Kathy Gill who leads Wirral’s youth justice service. Credit: Edward Barnes

Kathy Gill who leads Wirral’s Youth Justice Service said the idea was developed pre-pandemic looking at speaking to all young people, not just those already known. 4,000 have taken part so far.

She said, “For me, it’s about the feedback from young people, how many young people have come in? How many have learned? How many teachers have learned about exploitation and crime?

“We’ve seen a reduction in exploitation and we’ve seen a reduction of first time entrants to the criminal justice system. It’s not just In the Zone but it’s all linked to that early intervention.”

Ms Gill said she wanted to make it fun, interactive with the “short snappy fun games that we play” avoiding an “assembly led I talk you listen” approach.

She added, “The feedback from the kids is it stays. That sort of stays, I remember when I played the Monopoly game about peer pressure and I remember that question, because you don’t remember a PowerPoint and someone talking to you but you remember when you have fun.”

On Tuesday, 21 November, pupils at Prenton High School for Girls were the latest group to take part. Sophia Kaplansoy said, “I learned so much more today than I actually knew because half of the stuff I thought I’d know but it actually wasn’t so much. We got to learn about a boy who was stabbed and we got to hear the story of their parents and what they went through.”

She added, “It’s to prepare you for the things that could happen in life and learning in lessons is all good but you need to learn outside because it keeps you safe and that could save a life.”

Sally Haydon said, “Especially for county lines, I was aware of it but I wasn’t aware of how extensive it was on the Wirral. That was quite shocking and there’s organised crime gangs. That was like the mafia in New York. Nothing really happens.

“What they said about that was obviously a bit frightening, especially if you weren’t aware of how much is going on but after that, they talked about how to spot if someone’s getting involved in this and how to prevent things and that’s important too. You can stop it before it even happens.”

Having learned about the effects of alcohol using goggles and putting people in the recovery position, Cheuk-ying Chou said, “When you know somebody’s in danger, you know who to find, not only the police or Childline or the school but you can also talk to every organisation who came today.”

The students said the honest and interactive approach meant the messages stuck. Tamsin Pawley said, “If it was just a PowerPoint and we were just sitting there all day not getting involved I think I’d be quite bored.”

“Hackman,” an interactive game being used in Wirral schools to help children learn about the risks of being online. Credit: Edward Barnes

Prenton’s Headteacher Lisa Ayling said, “If we aren’t able to support our students to become healthy, safe young adults. Everything else we do, they can’t access all that unless they know how to keep themselves safe.”

She said, “I think it would be naive for any headteacher to say that those things don’t apply to us. I think you only have to look on the news to see that these things are happening in and around us and our young people come from a wide area across Wirral as with all Wirral schools.

“We need to make sure that we are equipping students so when they’re seeing these things in the media because they will be seeing them as well and they’ll have questions about this as well. Why is this happening? Does this affect me?

“It helps us keep our students safe. It would be a very naive world and a very naive view to say these things don’t affect young people in this community.”

Sharon Broderick, a Compass practitioner involved in Wirral’s service tackling child exploitation, said the scheme meant people had come forward with issues and supporting families.

She said, “I think from the exploitation side, it’s so wide-ranging. It knows no boundaries and I think a lot of the kids that we speak to in the schools have experienced it in one way, shape, or form that we wouldn’t have expected in certain geographical areas.

She said, “These young people are our tomorrow,” adding, “If we end up with them all either hurt be that physically, emotionally or mentally or with criminal records, then that needs to be stopped because we need them to be able to live their best lives and achieve what they should be achieving.”

Claire Walker, a Safer Schools police officer, said, “I’m not aware of anyone else doing it. This is only a Wirral wide thing as well. It hasn’t made it to Liverpool just yet. I think the bosses are keen to get it out there.”

Images credit: Ed Barnes

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