A new (20 November 2017) report from Beyond Youth Custody proposes a theory of change for the effective resettlement of young people leaving custody. Entitled Now all I care about is my future. Supporting the shift: Framework for the effective resettlement of young people leaving custody, it recognises that effective and sustainable resettlement facilitates a shift in the way that a young person sees themselves, from an identity that promotes offending to one that promotes a positive contribution to society.
The framework has been designed as a resource for policy makers, decision makers, academics studying youth justice and will be of interest to anyone working with young people.
The resettlement challenge
Reoffending rates among young people leaving custody remain stubbornly high. In its 2015 inspection of services for youth resettlement after custody, HM Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP) described outcomes for young people leaving custody as “shocking”.
Beyond Youth Custody (BYC) argues that this failure is primarily because the existing “solution” has been comprised of a disparate set of good practice principles without a unifying framework. Previously, it has been challenging to understand how these principles work together to effect desistance – the process of abstaining from crime among those who previously had engaged in a sustained pattern of offending – and how an individual’s own work or that of different agencies fits with the process as a whole. Essentially, there has been no unifying aim for resettlement beyond effecting the outcome of preventing reoffending. It has been difficult for service providers to understand their aim because there has been no theory of change in resettlement.
Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that without such a theory of change, it has been difficult for practitioners to see the need for any ‘key principles’ of resettlement at all; that some see resettlement as essentially just about providing accommodation or education/employment. As such, there is no sense of how the quality of resettlement planning might work to reduce recidivism. This perhaps simply reflects the Youth Justice Board’s ‘seven pathways to resettlement’ guidance, which lists required support in each area of a young person’s life (Youth Justice Board, 2014), but without the context for how the sum might lead to social integration.
For this reason, the report sets out a theory of change for understanding how effective resettlement works, with the purpose of guiding future policy and practice development. This theory of change recognises that effective and sustainable resettlement facilitates a shift in the way that a young person sees themselves, from an identity that promotes offending to one that promotes positive contribution to society.
The framework highlights how service providers should support the young person to develop a positive identity – a new narrative for how they relate to others. This involves guiding and enabling the young person – through personal and structural support respectively – to create new roles in their life story that foster and reinforce this positive identity that promotes wellbeing and desistance.
Within this framework, BYC identifies five key characteristics that research has shown are important for all resettlement support. These characteristics provide a reflective checklist for providers to evaluate and (if necessary) redesign their support in order to help young people achieve a positive identity that leads to sustainable resettlement.The framework highlights how services should guide the young person with structural and personal support. This will assist in their development of a positive identity and become a new narrative for how they relate to others. Within the framework, young people are recognised as the central agent in their own rehabilitation.
The report argues that effectiveness of resettlement support is not just dependent on what steps providers take at different stages of the sentence, but how they take them. The five key characteristics they highlight are described as the 5 Cs:
- Constructive — centred on identity shift, future-oriented, motivating, strengths-based, empowering;
- Co-created — inclusive of the young person and their supporters;
- Customised — individual and diverse wraparound support;
- Consistent — resettlement focus from the start, seamless, enhanced at transitions, stable relationships; and
- Co-ordinated — managed widespread partnership across sectors.
The process of change
This framework for resettlement identifies the young person as the central agent in their own rehabilitation, while recognising the complex needs that may act as a barrier to success. BYC sets out a clear understanding of this process:
In effective resettlement, the young person manages to shift their identity during and beyond the end of their custodial sentence. Informed by this, they inevitably change the way they interact with the world. They build a more positive identity in a more positive life story, and behave more positively as a result. This positive identity is fostered and reinforced though involvement in activities, adopting roles in everyday life and interacting with supportive others. These new roles and activities help the young person to produce a ‘redemptive script’ that sees them become a pro-social and responsible character in their life story.
- While acknowledging that the process of change for each young person will be as individual as their life story, and subject to diversity characteristics such as gender, race and age, BYC sets out seven common steps:Identifying their existing strengths and future goals and using these to imagine a positive identity for their future narrative
- Identifying pathways in order to achieve those goals, including structures that need to be in place in custody and in the community
- Identifying and developing roles to foster and reinforce a positive identity
- Developing engagement with services and the wider community
- Involvement in activities that build and support their positive identity in a positive narrative
- Developing supportive and empowering relationships
- Constructive achievements
This is a high quality report whose conclusions are embedded in both the research evidence base and the six years’ practical experience of a wide range of projects under the Beyond Youth Custody banner. It is highly recommended for both policy people and practitioners.
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