Staff working across Highland on a new service for youth offenders have welcomed the announcement of continued funding until the end of this financial year. They also hope that new statistics that confirm the success of the service will ensure further funding in the years to come.
The Scottish Government has announced it is extending the first phase of Intensive Support and Monitoring Service (ISMS) in Highland until at least the end of March, next year, when Ministers will be in a position to announce their decision on the future role of ISMS once they complete their Spending Review and the evaluation of the first phase of ISMS.
This announcement follows publication by the Scottish Reporters Administration of figures that show there are 24 persistent young offenders in Highland, three less than at this time last year and 41 less than in 2005.
This reduction confirms an ongoing positive trend in Highland – which runs counter to the rest of the country and co-incides with the formation of the Intensive Support and Monitoring Service as part of a pilot with six other authorities. The service is operated by NCH (Scotland), in partnership with The Highland Council and NHS Highland.
Bill Alexander, Head of Children’s Services in Highland, said: “While the persistent offending rate has fallen dramatically in Highland, and by a lot more than the previous Scottish Government’s target of 10%, it has increased by around 20% in the rest of Scotland.
“75 young people from Highland, who presented a serious risk to themselves or others, have been on ISMS over the last two and a half years. A small number of these young people wore an electronic tag as a condition of the service. More than two thirds of young people on ISMS fully completed the programme, and most were involved in lower rates of offending, substance misuse and other antisocial behaviours as a consequence. Ongoing monitoring indicates that 80% of young people had a significant reduction in offending rates when on ISMS, and that this success continues for those who have become young adults.
“The programme was successful with half of the young people who wore an electronic tag. This confirms the findings in other parts of the country, that the support service is generally more effective than the electronic tag itself.”
An evaluation of ISMS in Highland by researchers from the University of Edinburgh has confirmed the positive outcomes. Professor Morag MacNeil said: “The strength of the approach lies in the level of engagement by skilled and committed practitioners in the lives of the young people. Good integration with other key services, particularly the Youth Action Teams, has also been an important factor here. What the young people say is that they appreciate being able to work with people who truly listen to them and try to get a better understanding of where they stand and what they have to deal with rather than just pigeonhole them into pre-existing programmes.”
Councillor Liz MacDonald, vice-chairman of the Council’s Housing & Social Work Committee, said: “The Intensive Support and Monitoring Service has enhanced the work of Social Work’s Youth Action Teams and our other partners, to achieve real change in the lives of these young people. Staff working in these services have helped reduce the number of offenders and the number of victims. They have also reduced the cost to society in future years”
Pam Courcha, chairman of the Highland Joint Committee on Children and Young People, said: “We have used Scottish Government funding to invest in youth justice services in Highland, and it is gratifying to see that we are making a difference. The Intensive Support and Monitoring Service has been a valuable addition to the work of the Youth Action Teams and partner agencies. We must continue to reduce youth crime, and we must also continue to turn around the lives of these young people.”
Ann Darlington, Assistant Director of NCH (Scotland) added: “NCH Scotland is proud of the work our Intensive Support and Monitoring Service and the contribution we have made to the success of youth justice services in Highland. This is an excellent example of effective partnership working and demonstrates what can be achieved when all agencies work in an integrated way to achieve good outcomes for young people. I believe that the success of the approach in Highland is down to our commitment to provide individualised services which focus on the needs of each young person. None of the agencies are complacent and we are all striving to continue to reduce persistent offending and enable young people to reach their potential.”
The success of the Youth Action Teams and Intensive Support and Monitoring Service is evident in the personal stories of some of these young people.
Jane was 14 years old, subject to child protection measures, and in a family with significant alcohol problems. She was misusing alcohol and substances, refusing to attend school, running away from home, and acting violently towards her parents. She had charges for breach of the peace and assault. She went on to the Intensive Support Service, was offered specialist educational support, and the Youth Action Team worked with her on alcohol use and offending. Very significant personal challenges came to the fore just as she started ISMS, and the NCH staff supported her through these. They also provided support within the home, and helped prevent Jane turning to alcohol as a coping strategy. She dramatically reduced her alcohol intake and her offending behaviour, and started attending education again.
Paul, who is 15 years old, was misusing both drugs and alcohol. Initially, he was reluctant to accept help because his father also had a dependence on alcohol. However, after building up a trusting relationship with his Youth Action Team worker, talking through his feelings about his father’s difficulties, and with the support of both his father and the guidance staff at school, he decided to make changes in his life.
Paul went on to join with a group of other boys who were supported to share experiences and work as a team. They looked at the consequences of alcohol and substance misuse, through art, video work and games. They met a former rock star, who shared his experiences, and they have now gone on to develop other activities through music.
Paul says: “It wasn’t easy coming to terms with the mistakes you have made, but I have learned a lot about myself and realised that I didn’t want to waste my life. I have completely stopped taking alcohol and drugs, and have been on a trip abroad as a volunteer to help other children, and that was a life changing experience. I am now doing youth work and getting paid for it, and I feel that my life has turned around and I can see a positive future.”
Michael was first referred to ISMS when he was 15 years old, and his offending was increasing weekly. His family home was chaotic, and he was left with a lot of responsibility for running the household. He had poor school attendance, and was aggressive when faced with any authority figures.
ISMS and the Youth Action Team supported intensive one to one support with Michael, to help him recognise what his behaviour was doing to himself and others. Over the weeks, he began to recognise how his aggression intimidated others, and he worked towards changing his behaviour. He reduced his offending, and accepted educational support.
A number of months later, following a personal crisis, he was referred back to ISMS for emotional and practical support, assistance in career planning and securing his own accommodation. Michael is now managing with support to maintain a tenancy.