Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Transitions - Young Adults with Complex Needs

In 2005 the Social Exclusion Unit published an excellent report entitled 'Transitions - Young Adults with Complex Needs' in which it clearly laid out issues associated with the 'thinking and behaviour' of young people and the impact upon education and life skills, work and training, drugs and alcohol, anti-social behaviour and offending. Phil Woolas, the then Minister of State for Social Exclusion, wrote in the Forward - "The test of our success is how we support the most disadvantaged people in our society. That means helping people at key stages of their life when they are most at risk and most vulnerable. The transition to adulthood is one of these key stages."

The report went on to describe how, 'Through the Improving Services and Improving Lives work programme, the Social Exclusion Unit is working with government departments and other stakeholders to deepen our understanding of why some groups benefit less from services than the general population, and to identify approaches to delivery that will narrow that gap. The overall objective of the programme is to make public services more effective for disadvantaged people, in order to improve their life chances.'

Despite the excellent research and statements of good intent, sadly little has changed in actually meeting the needs of so many disadvantaged young adults, particularly offenders and the reduction of re-offending. The rhetoric is sound but the delivery has been poor; the facts speak for themselves with increasing numbers in prison and re-offending rates remaining at or around 75%.

Critically, at its most basic level, too many of those responsible for delivering such work have not been given the front line training, understanding and skills to do so. Five years after the report was first published, this skills gap remains apparent today. Whilst the talk is that of education, training, employment and housing, the reality is still that of control, security, punishment and retribution, with many professionals suffering with stress and anxiety and changing jobs. The need to introduce a new philosophy and ethos to the work has never been greater. Train the staff and give them the understanding, skills and confidence to work effectively and see the change in the young people.

'Change the Thinking and the Feelings and change the Behaviour'

This applies to us all, not just the young people.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Time of Change in Reducing Re-offfending

Over the last two weeks it has been particularly encouraging to note the increasing recognition regarding the need to focus more funding towards community based re-habilitation and restorative justice programmes, rather than prison. The evidence gathered and the proposals made by the UK Parliament Justice Committee for increasing community based rehabilitation programmes can only be seen a water-shed in cross-party policy thinking. All we have to do now is implement it!!

In times of increasing budget pressures, the positive outcomes and subsequent cost savings will more than justify the provision and shift in emphasis. Whilst not suggesting that the public should not be protected from dangerous offenders, the majority of offenders will benefit far more from constructive programmes that help to promote positive personal change.

The Justice Committee has further suggested that new prisons are a "costly mistake" and funds would be better allocated to local public services outside of the prisons. They went so far as to suggest that the prison population in England and Wales should be reduced by a third and that prison is a relatively ineffective way of reducing crime except for serious offenders, and the amount of repeat offenders could be more efficiently reduced through rehabilitation programs such as housing, employment, education, and drug and alcohol services.

Importantly, any programme of rehabilitation must focus upon changing the thinking and feelings of offenders. Only then will society see a meaningful change in behaviour and a reduction in re-offending. All are intrinsically linked; by changing the thinking and the feelings, we automatically see a change in behaviour.

As it stands however, the Probation Service is likely to be overwhelmed by the demand for resettlement support to those leaving prison, let alone effectively running re-habilitation programmes in the community. A further shift and investment in partnership work with private and voluntary and community organisations will be essential.