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Working with Persistent Juvenile Offenders: An Evaluation of the Apex CueTen Project - Research Findings

DescriptionTo develop employment-related skills and to introduce persistent juvenile offenders to the world of work and further training.
ISBN0 7480 8208 5
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateOctober 21, 1999

Crime and Criminal Justice Research Findings No 31

Working with Persistent Juvenile Offenders: An Evaluation of the Apex CueTen Project: (1999)
David Lobley and David Smith Lancaster University

ISBN 0-7480-8208-5 Publisher The Scottish office

The CueTen project for persistent juvenile offenders was established in Glenrothes in October 1995, with funding for 3 years from The Scottish Office. Managed by Apex Scotland, it aimed to reduce offending by changing young people's attitudes to training and employment. The principal objectives of the CueTen programme were to develop employment-related skills and to introduce persistent juvenile offenders to the world of work and further training. These were to be pursued over a 26-week programme, the first half based in the project, the second half providing increasing opportunities for the independent exercise of the skills acquired.
Main Findings
  • The CueTen project worked with 86 young people in total (73 young men and 13 young women) and largely succeeded in working with its intended target group of the most persistent juvenile offenders in Fife. Seventy of the young people were aged 15 when they started at CueTen, and the rest were almost 15.
  • Sixty-nine (80%) of the young people had been charged with crimes of dishonesty, 47 (55%) with miscellaneous offences, mostly minor assaults and public order offences, and 46 (53%) with offences of fire-raising and vandalism. These 3 offence categories accounted for about 87% of all charges against the young people in the year before they started at CueTen.
  • The 26-week programme at CueTen proved too demanding for many of the young people. Fifty-five per cent completed the first block of 13 weeks, and only 40% completed the entire programme. Twenty were excluded from the project for violence, drug use, or seriously disruptive behaviour. Another 26 stopped attending for other reasons, usually associated with difficulties in their home lives.
  • Those who completed the programme tended to be those who had been charged less frequently during the previous 12 months. Only one of the 12 young people with more than 15 charges in the previous year completed the programme; 13 of the 24 who completed the programme had 5 or fewer charges in this period.
  • The offending records of the group who completed the programme showed more improvement in the 12 months after starting at CueTen than the records of the group who failed to complete and of a comparison group (N=39). The difference was not statistically significant.
  • There were indications that the subsequent offences committed by the group who completed the programme were less serious than those committed by the other 2 groups.
  • CueTen did not deliver an overall cost-saving to the criminal justice or child care systems during the 3 years covered by the evaluation, but this does not mean that it was less cost-effective than other interventions. It is likely that the project produced modest long-term savings, through diverting young people from adult criminal careers.
The CueTen project was established in 1995 as a result of a Scottish Office initiative to promote the development of community-based resources for persistent juvenile offenders. The approach of Apex Scotland, CueTen's parent agency, is based on the belief that employment is often the best way of diverting people from criminal careers, and its projects aim to improve offenders' chances of participation in the labour market by enhancing relevant skills and promoting attitudes favourable to employment. The programme developed for CueTen was essentially that used by Apex in its work with older offenders: a 26-week programme, the first half of which comprised a social skills curriculum aimed at improving employability and attitudes to training and education, while the second half provided increasing opportunities for the independent exercise of the skills acquired, in workplaces or in further education.
Establishing the project
The CueTen project, funded by The Scottish Office for 3 years on the understanding that it would work with 32 young people in each year, was established in Glenrothes in October 1995. It offered a service throughout Fife and the first young people started on the programme in January 1996. Fife was an attractive location for Apex Scotland because it already had a presence there, and premises for the project were available; it was also hoped that Fife would suffer relatively little from the local government reorganisation of April 1996. Attendance at the project was to be a condition of a supervision requirement made at a Children's Hearing and it was agreed that referrals would be accepted from social workers of young people aged 14-16:
  • who have appeared before a Children's Hearing on the grounds of persistent or escalating offending
  • who live in the community of Fife, including those in foster care
  • for whom statutory measures have not proved satisfactory or adequate
  • who are at risk of custody or residential care
  • with whom the programme has been fully discussed and explained and who have agreed to meet the responsibilities of the programme.
The question of whether Fife had a large enough population to produce the envisaged number of persistent young offenders was not closely considered, one of several results of Apex's determination to establish the project quickly. It was set up without detailed consultation with staff in relevant agencies, such as the police and the Education Department; and it did not help that there was a history of tension in Fife between the Education and Social Work Departments. As a result of the lack of consultation in the early stages, some basic issues were not resolved until later in the project's life (if at all): for example, the project staff felt that they never had as full or reliable information from the police as they would have wished on the young people at CueTen, and the question of whether CueTen or the Education Department should pay for the transport of the young people to the project remained unresolved for most of the project's existence. Although social workers, who were the main agents of referral to the project, came to value it as a resource, the CueTen staff did not feel that the project gained complete acceptance as a valid and important resource for juvenile offenders in Fife.
The work of CueTen
The project was planned to operate on the basis of 4 closed groups of 8 young people in a year; in practice, it worked on 3 rather than 4 intakes, but came close to achieving the target figure of 32 young people a year. At the end of the evaluation period, when the ninth intake of young people had recently started, a total of 86 young people had spent some time at CueTen, 7 of them attending in a second group after an earlier failure to complete the programme. Thirteen were young women.
Many of the young people who came to the project presented problems of management and motivation that the staff had not previously encountered, and for which they were not fully prepared. The formal curriculum which was the basis of CueTen's approach proved too demanding for many of the young people - not surprisingly, considering that few had recently been attending school with any regularity, and that most had records of persistent offending over the previous 12 months (and usually for longer). As a result, the staff had constantly to adapt and refine their practice, to provide alternative activities when a group refused to participate in what had been originally planned, to ensure that there was a manageable mix of formal work on the skills curriculum and less demanding leisure and sporting activities, and to allow more time for individual counselling.
While the staff were persevering in their efforts to respond to the young people's demands, and there is no doubt that many of the young people appreciated the time and care that the staff devoted to them, work occasionally had to be suspended because of disruptive behaviour. Twenty of the young people who started at CueTen in the first 8 groups were excluded before the end of the programme for unacceptable behaviour, usually violence or the threat of it, or for drug use; another 26 failed to finish the programme because of circumstances in other aspects of their lives. From the first 8 intakes of 80 young people, 44 (55%) completed the first block of 13 weeks, 29 completed, or virtually completed, the entire programme representing 40% of those who started in the first 7 groups and had been at the project long enough to complete the programme. These figures are not greatly out of line with the findings of other research, but they do indicate something of the problems the project staff had in sustaining motivation and interest. Time and energy spent on immediate problems of management and non-attendance meant that the staff had little time left for the more developmental aspects of the project, such as developing links with local employers.
In general, despite not being in a position to be selective about which young people were accepted, CueTen did work with the intended target group of persistent juvenile offenders: only 9 of the 59 young people who started on the first 6 intakes had fewer than 3 charges recorded against them in the previous 12 months, and there was no evidence that there were substantial numbers of similarly persistent offenders who did not have a chance to attend CueTen. The difficulty for the staff was that the young people who came to CueTen had all the problems typical of any population of persistent offenders: three-quarters had experienced some family dislocation, and well over half had spent some time in care outside the family home; they had rejected, or been rejected by, the formal education system; many had some health problems, and some were at risk of drug or alcohol dependence.
Outcomes, costs and savings
The main outcomes considered are those indicating criminal activity, since no convincing case can be made that attendance at CueTen, or completion of its programme, affected the young people's immediate employment prospects. The strongest statistical association found was between number of previous charges and likelihood of completing the CueTen programme: those with the fewest charges in the previous 12 months were the most likely to complete the 26 weeks at CueTen. The outcomes in terms of known offending after starting at the project were also relatively encouraging for the group of 24 'completers' for whom a follow-up period of at least 12 months was available: only 4 were offending at a rate that suggested the probable development of a long term criminal career, and the total volume of known offences by this group of 24 was only 45% of the previous year's total, compared with about two-thirds for both the comparison group and the group who did not finish the programme. In their record of offending in the year after starting at CueTen compared with their record in the previous year, in the total number of offences they were known to have committed, and in the likelihood of their being sentenced to custody, this group out-performed both the group of 35 'non-completers' and the comparison group, suggesting that those who completed the CueTen programme went on to offend less seriously and less frequently than the other 2 groups. It can be estimated that CueTen may have prevented about 30 crimes among this group of 24 young people, and that it may have prevented the development of 3 adult criminal careers.
On the assumption that CueTen continued to prevent crimes at a similar rate throughout its life, it can be estimated that it prevented about 44 crimes in all; and on the same assumption, it may have prevented the development of 4 long term criminal careers. These figures, and similarly calculated savings on custodial sentences and residential care, allow the conclusions that CueTen saved in the short term about £30,800 in criminal justice system costs through crime prevention, and about £100,000 through reducing the number of custodial sentences. It probably also saved about £98,300 through diversion from residential care. In the longer term, if it prevented 4 criminal careers of 10 to 12 years, it may additionally have saved about £400,000. These figures are based on estimates of direct savings to the criminal justice system only, not on the notional marginal costs of crimes by young people. While the figures suggest that CueTen did not deliver any immediate cost-savings (the project cost approximately £580,000 to run over 3 years), they do not imply that it was less cost-effective than other measures.
CueTen suffered in some respects from the circumstances of its conception. Apex Scotland assumed that the experience of working with older offenders could be readily transferred to a project for 14-16 year-olds, and this proved not to be the case. The speed with which the project was established meant that there was less inter-agency consultation than was desirable; as a consequence, the project was not universally accepted by the relevant constituencies in Fife, and staff had to work with less than adequate information about the young people in their charge, and with uncertain communications with social workers about developments in their lives.
The nature of the client group at CueTen meant that everyday life there was rarely relaxed or harmonious. Staff tended to be preoccupied by immediate problems of management and control, at the expense of work on the formal programme. There were chronic problems over attendance and participation. The staff had no access to the family lives of the young people, though these were the source of many of their problems. The number of young people who completed the programme was disappointing, but not out of line with what could have been expected.
Nevertheless, there are indications that CueTen had some impact on the offending pattern of young people who did complete the programme. The fact that these tended to be the least seriously persistent offenders is relevant to thinking about what policy lessons might be drawn from the experience of CueTen. Arguably, the place for such a project is in helping young people manage a transition. For instance, a programme like CueTen's could be used to prepare young people for release from custody, or for discharge from long term care. It could also be used as a bridge into employment and independence for young people in the community whose offending is already declining, whose emotional life is reasonably stable, who are not deeply immersed in sub-cultural delinquency, and who have no serious problems of drug or alcohol abuse. These might be young people who have already been helped with such problems by a more established form of intervention, such as a mix of individual counselling, offence- (or other problem-) focused group-work, and family support. Attendance at such a programme could be voluntary, though authoritatively encouraged. The programme would need to be well embedded in the network of local agencies, and be sustained by consensual inter-agency support.
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