The number of children getting a criminal record in Dorset is above the national average, new figures have revealed.

Statistics show a rate of 350 young people per 100,000 entered the youth justice system in the county for the first time last year.

That compares with averages of less than 250 both nationally and regionally.

Now Dorset's combined youth offending service manager, David Webb, has called for action to tackle the problem.

The figures have been revealed in the 2019 Dorset-wide Youth Justice Plan for 2019/20 which was supported at the first meeting of the BCP Council children’s scrutiny committee.

The increase has mainly been fuelled by a significant rise in the former Dorset County Council area over the last two years where the rate rose by more than 50 per cent between 2016 and 2018.

Over the same period, the rate in Poole has fallen while it has increased slightly in Bournemouth with both at about the same level - just under 400.

All three areas are now above both the regional and national averages.

Speaking at the meeting, Mr Webb described the position as "unusual."

"The first time entrants issue relates to work that is or isn’t being done before they reach our system,” he said.

“We need to make sure we have diversion measures in place for low level offences so that it doesn’t result in formal court or police action.”

He said that a joint review had been carried out with police to make sure that offences committed by children are dealt with appropriately.

More than half of youngsters who were dealt with through the justice system for the first time last year were given youth cautions – the lowest formal outcome.

The plan says that there is “scope” for youth restorative disposals, a power for police which allows restorative work to be carried out in place of formal action, to be used instead of cautions which would bring that overall rate down.

Seventy per cent of children who received a caution last year had not previously been issued with a disposal.

A spokesman for Dorset Police said there was a "robust" decision-making process in the county.

"Most first time offenders will receive a youth caution, which is the lowest level of youth justice disposal available," they said.

"It is recognised that premature criminalisation of children is likely to increase rather than decrease the chances of further offending and through our multi-agency approach we have established some successful local options that offer alternatives disposals to court or cautions.

"Dorset Police, Dorset Combined Youth Offending Service and the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner have been reviewing the current approach to see if we could increase the use of diversion and reduce the use of youth cautions.

"As part of this process we have contacted all other police forces for information about their local youth diversion schemes to look for best practice examples from elsewhere that might help us reduce our first time entrants rate."

The spokesman added that the county performed better than the national average in terms of its rate of reoffending and use of custodial sentences when dealing with youths.

Both the BCP Council cabinet and its full council will consider the plan in the coming weeks.