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Recently in youth justice, there has been a real focus on resettlement, with a variety of research identifying what makes for good resettlement practice. However, as the latest Beyond Youth Custody update states:
“Over two thirds of children re-offend within 12 months of release from secure institutions”. While this represents a slight decline over the past few years, it is still way too high. The recent thematic inspection of resettlement services to children stated in its headline finding: “The offending outcomes for many of the children whose cases we inspected were poor”. This is no longer an acceptable situation, since we have the knowledge to ‘do resettlement’ so much better.
Much of the research has identified the following as crucial for good resettlement:
• Continuity between the custody and community stages of a young person’s custodial order (the most common of which is the Detention and Training Order, where automatic release is given halfway through the sentence, with some scope for earlier release on longer sentences)
• Planning to start when the young person enters custody, rather than when they are about to leave; robust resettlement plans in place well before release, providing the young people with wrap-around care, and contingency arrangements if any aspects fail
• Exit strategies from statutory orders to include non-criminal agencies, and engage the young person effectively.
The inspection report mentioned earlier notes: “Services to meet all the needs of the child should be in place before release and be coordinated, with agencies working together not merely sharing information”. So these elements are only possible with highly effective joint working between all relevant agencies, which is ongoing, and can support the young person throughout and beyond their involvement with youth justice.
So how is this to be achieved? It could be that the Welsh Government and Youth Justice Board Cymru, in their policy document “Children and Young People First” have hit upon a potentially powerful solution. They have stated that “Reintegration and Resettlement Partnerships will be established … and will address the common problems encountered when resettlement planning, undertake case reviews and share good practice”. Of course, this is neither rocket science, nor completely new, since Resettlement Support Panels were piloted in Wales from 2009 – however, only two of the original six still survive, posing questions about the sustainability of this type of model. The difference may lie in specific roles created to develop and sustain Reintegration and Resettlement Partnerships (RRP), as currently provided through the Resettlement Broker Project.
Since 2013, Llamau, Wales’ leading homelessness charity for young people and vulnerable women, has been delivering the Resettlement Broker Project to improve resettlement outcomes for young people in Wales by means of the introduction of Resettlement Broker Coordinators for North and South Wales. Part of the project’s achievements has been the setting up of RRPs in six of the Youth Offending Team areas across Wales by the Brokers, with others in negotiation. Members of the RRPs range from across statutory, non-statutory and third sectors, in order to extend responsibility for these vulnerable young people as widely as possible, to allow them the best possible chance of successful resettlement, leading to desistance from offending. Inclusion of the secure estate is a challenge, when so many young people are sent to custodial institutions far from their home area (especially so in North Wales, where the nearest provision is in Stoke-on –Trent!), but is currently under negotiation. Robust plans are negotiated, crucially involving a far wider-reaching range of professionals than could otherwise have been the case. Importantly, the level of membership of these new RRPs has allowed investigation into more strategic resettlement ‘blockages’ which might be more structural in nature, thereby holding agencies to account for the service they are prepared to offer.
Are these RRPs sustainable, given previous experience of flash and burn? The Broker role presents a real chance of sustainability for them, and for the further creation of others. There is a need to source further funding to enable the Broker roles to continue when current funding ends; short term funding has seen the demise of so many promising projects, resulting in a higher price being paid by society for the continuing high level of re-offending. In these times of budget cuts, collaboration is surely the only way to cover all bases for these young people, to secure a better future for them and for society.
This weeks guest blog is written by Kathy Hampson from Llamau.org.uk