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Offenders head back to the right track

A project by charity Barnardo's is giving young people involved in persistent criminal behaviour a vital steer back towards the straight and narrow

A project by charity Barnardo's is giving young people involved in persistent criminal behaviour a vital steer back towards the straight and narrow

When he held his newborn son in his arms, Craig was as proud as any new dad. But there was one worry at the back of his mind, which he confided to his wife: he didn't want his son to follow in his footsteps.

"When my son was born I said to his mother that my biggest fear for my boy was keeping him out of jail. I didn't want him to follow in my path," says Craig, sitting in his armchair at the family home in Aberdeenshire. "And he came that close to being put away," adds the 43-year-old, pinching the air with his thumb and forefinger.

Craig spent three-and-a-half years in prison when he was 17 - exactly the same age his son is now. "My experience of being inside at his age very nearly tipped me over. I'm lucky I'm here, put it that way. I was under so much pressure, I didn't know whether I wanted to live or die."

His son Scott came perilously close to jail after a series of offences culminating in a wilful fire-raising charge. He took his father's car and hit another car. There were drunken episodes when police brought him home, and minor assaults.

"I think in all the things he did, apart from the taking of the car, alcohol was involved," says his father. The fire-raising charge against him was dropped, to the family's enormous relief. "There is a change in the family, because the pressure is off," Craig acknowledges.

But the seriousness of the offence prompted the involvement of children's charity Barnardo's. This was a lifeline for Scott, who grasped it with both hands.

Explaining what he thought caused his problems, Scott says: "A lot of people would say drink - and the folk I was hanging about with all the time." So how did he sort himself out? He replies quite simply: "Barnardo's."

"Because I was getting the support I needed, I just kept my head down and out of trouble." And he has - it has been over two years since he committed an offence.

New Directions is an innovative partnership project which involves Barnardo's, and Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire councils helping youngsters like Scott get their lives back on track. The project offers intensive intervention to persistent and serious young offenders to prevent re- offending and keep them out of care and custody. A Barnardo's survey a few years ago discovered that 73 per cent of the young people they worked with on the project had experienced significant bereavement and loss.

This year is the project's 10th anniversary, and it has much to celebrate. During the past decade, more than 70 per cent of young people who completed the programme reduced their offending behaviour.

The voluntary programme involves agreement and commitment from the young people to meet their project worker twice a week, usually for at least a year and sometimes longer. During these sessions, the project workers and teenagers work through individual action plans, focusing on the causes and effects of their offending and going out to find those new directions in new activities.

Scott and his project worker Trevor Hart have an easy rapport. Scott started with someone else, but when he left, Trevor took over - working with the young man and his family. "It was really helpful when I was stressed with what I was going through at the time," says Scott's dad. "Whenever we spoke, I felt a bit better afterwards."

Scott is a quiet lad, who is sporty and keen on football. "We'd argue about who is the better team - Liverpool or Man U," says Trevor. "It's Man U," Scott chips in. "And we liked going to the beach cafe for something to eat," Scott says.

It's not always football and burgers, though. Trevor took another youngster to see a local performance of a Gilbert and Sullivan production: "It was my idea, because I'm into music in a big way," says Trevor. "But he loved the stomping-along Gilbert and Sullivan songs."

The idea is to boost self-esteem, so young people can do a range of activities such as rock climbing or visiting a local motorbike project - anything that provides alternative avenues for their energy and helps their confidence.

They also tackle issues that relate to their offending, like anger management, vehicle crime or their relationships with friends. Where relevant, they focus on alcohol and drug misuse. Sometimes work can be done in school during free periods or at Barnardo's offices.

Referrals come through the multi-agency Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire Youth Offending Review Group (YORG), whose membership includes Barnardo's, Grampian police and social workers from the youth justice and child care teams.

Clare Hyslop, a qualified social worker and senior practitioner with Barnardo's, says: "A young person would come to New Directions if they met our criteria - that they have had five or more offences within the past 12 months - or if they have maybe got one, which is a serious offence that might involve a serious assault, a fire raising or something with a weapon."

Young people on anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) can agree to take part in the venture and an outreach service is available to those in secure accommodation. They also get help to find training, jobs and accommodation, with support from other agencies such as Careers Scotland. Teenagers agree to their crime files being monitored and weekly updates on their offending being made available by Grampian police.

"It means we're not getting a situation where a young person says, `everything's fine and I am doing great,' then suddenly you turn round and there are seven offences," says Jim Wallace, assistant director (children's services) at Barnardo's.

Key workers react swiftly to any crises in these youngsters' lives. "It's not nine to five. There is strength of commitment and belief and the young people know that," Wallace says of the project worker job.

Trevor Hart agrees. The relationships with the young people must be based on trust, he says. "Then the key issue around that is the work that we do to try and get them to understand about where they are as people and that their actions have got consequences.

"Often, if you are out offending, there are victims and the work is all around trying to get them to understand that. You then discover that they themselves - the vast majority, I would say - have also been victims. There will have been local fights and they have been beaten up. Some of them have maybe faced abuse in their own lives when they were younger."

Scott's beginning to look like another Barnardo's success story, making a fresh start at college and keeping out of trouble. Now he's completed this programme, he can move on to Barnardo's aftercare service to keep him on the right track.

By his own admission he's no saint, but he's getting there. "I am still drinking, but I've never been in a bad carry-on like I used to. I don't come home absolutely hammered. Well, not all the time. And if I am, it's just because I've had a good time, not because I am fighting."

Trevor's in positive mood and confident that Scott can have a successful future if he does stay out of trouble. He also reckons his footballing skills will be welcomed by one of the local teams.

Scott's dad Craig looks on, cautiously optimistic. "He's definitely a different person now," he says.

- All names have been changed


New Directions is one of the first services in Scotland to use an assessment tool developed by Oxford University's centre of criminology and used by youth offending teams in England and Wales.

ASSET highlights areas in a young person's life that contribute to offending and assembles information to assess the risk of re-offending. It focuses on issues such as the neighbourhood where the person lives, their living arrangements, their personal family history and their emotional well-being. Each aspect is scored between 0 and 4 - the higher the total score, the greater the risk of re-offending.

The New Directions project will only work with people who are at medium to high risk of getting back into trouble, says Clare Hyslop, a senior practitioner at Barnardo's. The young people work with key workers on a part of ASSET called "What Do You Think?" during their first three sessions. Individual action plans are then tailored to each participant, based on the high-scoring areas of their life, which the software suggests are linked with their offending.

New Directions repeats the assessment every three months to track progress. Jim Wallace, assistant director (children's services) at Barnardo's, says: "If we can see the score is coming down, it's an indicator that the likelihood of them re-offending is reducing, so we are being successful in the work."


"It stopped me from breaking mostly everything in my house. I am listening to people a lot better, controlling my anger, looking at my behaviour and really changing my life around."

15-year-old boy who began offending when he was 10, but has not been in trouble for two years.

"When I started with Barnardo's, I was in secure accommodation. I have been with them a year now and I am out of secure accommodation and I've done lots of work with them. I took up boxing, won championships, and I would like to go to college now and try to get to university,"

16-year-old boy.

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