Bristol: Tackling youth crime and exploitation

Bristol City Council set up a programme to tackle youth crime and exploitation in a partnership between the council, police, schools and voluntary sector which provides a range of support to vulnerable children.


Bristol City Council has set up a programme to tackle youth crime and exploitation. The Safer Options partnership between the council, police, schools and voluntary sector provides a range of support to vulnerable children from mentoring to group work and sporting activities. 

How the partnership works

Safer Options was launched in Bristol in 2018 as a community-led response in east and central Bristol to increasing serious violence and child criminal exploitation involving young people.

It was scaled up to a city-wide response in 2019 after funding from the Home Office and introduction of an Avon and Somerset-wide Violence Reduction Unit, which saw a series of initiatives set up across the region.

The work is coordinated by the Safer Options Hub, a team of specialist practitioners whose job it is to support change across the partnership system. The hub includes a manager, child sexual exploitation (CSE) social worker, safeguarding social worker and a police intelligence investigator.

There is also a network of dedicated Safer Options workers who are embedded in different services across the city. They include three youth justice prevention workers, two social workers and nine specialist exploitation workers (criminal and sexual) who are employed by Barnardo’s. There is a dedicated substance misuse worker, specialist 18 to 25 practitioner, three school inclusion managers and 15 community mentors.

Strategic Safeguarding and Quality Assurance Service Manager Becky Lewis said: “We didn’t want to duplicate what was already being done, which is why beyond the hub there is not a standalone team, rather we have embedded the staff into existing services to make sure the support is there for the children we are working with.

“Because they are part of the Safer Options there is more sharing of information. For example, the school inclusion managers can alert a school if a pupil has had involvement with youth justice system and together, they can piece together what is happening. Schools can alert the programme via the school inclusion managers if they have concerns about pupils – school attendance is often one of the first tell-tale signs.”

Wider work with 50 local organisations

To help schools further, the Safer Options team has developed guidance if pupils are found in possession of a weapon or drugs in school. It means they are no longer automatically reported to the police and instead a bespoke package of support can be developed for them.

This package may well be provided by the Safer Options partner organisations. Safer Options works with more than 50 groups, including those providing parenting support, charities running groups for girls involved in violence and exploitation as well as a network of youth clubs, wellbeing services and careers advice. There are also a range of sporting activities available, such as boxing, football and rugby which are offered with the support of local sports clubs.

The organisations are provided with funding to pay for specific support and run groups for the children and young people the Safer Options team are working with. Over the last year nearly 270 children have been offered support through the targeted one-to-one interventions and many more through group, outreach and training programmes.

Referrals come in from a variety of sources from schools to social care. The most complex cases are all given a named contact from the team to coordinate their support.

Safer Options also oversees some wider projects. For example, the Blunt Truth project has been rolled out to secondary schools and involves ambulance and police staff going into schools to describe the impact of knife crime from their first-hand experiences.

The work seems to be making a difference with serious violent crime down by more than 11 per cent in the past year and hospitals admissions for knife injuries among the under 25s down by 25 per cent.

Ambitions for the future

The team is now looking to build on its success and broaden its offer. This year there will be two peer mental health workers recruited and a clinical psychologist as feedback from young people suggested it was needed, said Ms Lewis.

“Young people were telling us they were not engaging with the formal mental health service, often they were seeking advice from friends so we feel the peer mental health workers could play a vital role, while the clinical psychologist has been brought in to work with those who suffer with PTSD following exploitation.”

Ms Lewis said Safer Options also has ambitions to do more with younger children. “We are thinking about those in primary school – doing more further upstream to tackle the problems before they become entrenched.

“In particular we are looking at transitions into secondary school, maybe a residential activity over the summer. We have noticed that boys who have experienced abuse and violence from older men – fathers or men in the household – are at particular risk later so we want to see what we can do for them. The work we do and data we collect allows us to constantly seek to tailor and improve our approach so we are targeting the support where it is needed.”

Contact details

Becky Lewis, Strategic Safeguarding and Quality Assurance Service Manager, Bristol City Council: safer.options@bristol.gov.uk