Monday, December 31, 2007


Whilst 'Basic Skills' are undoubtedly important, acquiring them is not what makes the difference in reducing re-offending. Rather, learning to master the tough ‘soft’ skills is what reduces re-offending. It is a massive journey of attitudinal change, both for offenders and often those working with them.

When you have never experienced it before, this type of reflective, emotional and experiential learning is extremely tough and well outside the average offender's comfort zone. It is not simply a transfer of skills, rather a journey that encompasses personal growth, the leaning of new values, self-belief, self-esteem, self-efficacy, emotional maturity, confidence, respect and integrity. Encouraging offenders to value themselves, helping them to feel empowered, recognising their strengths and talents, motivating them and encouraging them to fulfill their goals and achieve their own unique potential, this is what makes the difference - Develop the person first - the rest will follow. To support someone on such a journey requires a wide range of skills.

Of note, the majority of offenders that we have worked with described how professionals with such responsibility generally failed to show them any respect or understanding. Many went on to suggest that most professionals were unwilling to listen to their point of view and had other agendas that tended to have little to do with the offender's thoughts or needs. These agendas were often associated with ‘control’ and ‘management targets’. Critically, there was a lack of understanding in respect of the ‘tough’ soft skills alluded to earlier. Until these issues are addressed, any meaningful relationship between offender and professional will be limited.

Against this background, I have been attempting to identify the type and level of training being given to those responsible for effective work with offenders and other marginalised groups. It is with some disquiet that I have had little success. Most appears to be focused upon legal issues, management procedures and rules. Whilst there are numerous articles and reports describing the content of 'what works' programmes, little emphasis would appear to be placed upon the interpersonal skills, relationships and attitudes needed to deliver such programmes effectively or to provide ongoing support.

I would very much like to hear from anybody working with offenders, long-term unemployed and other marginalised groups regarding their professional training and continuing personal development (CPD), particularly regarding what, if anything, they feel is missing.