Yesterday (8 August 2022) Clinks published the latest article in its online evidence library that I am lucky enough to curate. The evidence library was created to develop a far-reaching and accessible evidence base covering the most common types of activity undertaken within the criminal justice system.
The latest addition is by Professor Neal Hazel and looks at the resettlement of children released from custody. Research and inspections of youth offending services have consistently shown that meeting children’s resettlement needs is challenging, often leaving them without the necessary help to turn their lives around. The last two HMI Probation reports into the issue described the quality of resettlement support as “shocking” and “immensely disappointing“.
Nevertheless, there is now a considerable body of evidence (much of it developed by Professor Hazel) for what effective resettlement support looks like and policy and practice guidance for how to implement it. The Clinks review looks at:
- What is involved in children’s resettlement and why it is so important
- The challenges for supporting children after custody
- The essence of successful resettlement for a child, and the role of practitioners in it
- Effective sentence planning and case-management
- The five key characteristics for effective resettlement support
- The importance of practitioners being ‘identity-aware’
- The importance of diversity
- The recent policy and practice development of constructive resettlement.
Two types of help
Professor Hazel draws from the evidence base to demonstrate that when planning children’s resettlement support that specifically seeks to develop pro-social identity, youth justice professionals need to provide two distinct types of help. Together, these will ensure that interventions are appropriate to the child:
- Personal support should specifically focus on guiding the young person’s identity: helping them to (a) explore how they see themselves now, (b) find their strengths and interests to inform their future, (c) discover a prosocial self for the future, and (d) identify the routes to that pro-social self. It should involve enabling a sense of agency that encourages the child to develop hope and investment in their future.
- Structural support sees that any practical support (e.g. education/training or accommodation) is always informed by, and seeks to enable, the routes identified in personal support. That makes it relevant to the child. Only in an emergency should such practical support be introduced without having direction from personal support work.
Professor Hazel explains that a child’s pro-social identity is fostered and reinforced though involvement in (a) constructive activities in which to discover new strengths and interests, (b) supportive interactions with positive reinforcement, and (c) in the adoption of formal or informal roles (e.g. the good listener, the ‘engineer’ who fixes the IT) that allow them to ‘try on’ new identities. Resettlement sentence plans should allow provide children with enough opportunities for constructive activities, interactions, and roles (or fresh AIR!).
Sentence planning with both Personal Support and Structural Support that focuses on developing prosocial identity through fresh AIR has become known as ‘constructive casework’
The 5Cs for effective resettlement support
Beyond Youth Custody, a lottery-funded suite of 16 projects which ran over a five year period, found that five key characteristics of support (now known as the ‘5Cs’) are associated in research with positive outcomes. These can be used as a checklist for the likely effectiveness of any package of resettlement support:
The work is positively focused on developing the child’s pro-social identity, with all interventions considered in relation to that objective. Support is future-focused and strengths-based, rather than focusing on past behaviour in stigmatising ways. Work motivates and empowers the child to make positive choices.
The child’s identity is personal to them, so it’s crucial that they are involved with any planning. This will help ensure that they consider the support as relevant to their needs and future, and so help engagement. Family and friends are important sources of support and should be brought on board where appropriate, with barriers to engaging them addressed as a priority.
As every child’s resettlement journey is different, service providers need to create an individualised package of wraparound support, rather than merely delivering generic interventions. Support should consider the child’s self-identified characteristics (including ethnicity and gender).
As resettlement is a long-term journey for the young person (not just release from custody), any shift in identity requires continuous support, from the very beginning of a sentence (if not before), to beyond the end of it. Support between custody and community should be one seamless programme, which
requires all agencies to work together and exchange information, and community support established long before release. Temporary release is a vital tool for establishing community placements and to help reduce disorientation after release. Ideally, custody and community agencies should share aims and targets around identity development and hold each other to account. Trust and engagement are fostered by consistent staff relationships and, in custody, not moving children between institutions.
The complex nature of children’s needs means that a wraparound package of support cannot be achieved by one agency, but requires partnership across sectors, including voluntary agencies and private employers. Successful resettlement programmes require service managers to broker the engagement of partners in order to map and maintain a menu of local support.