Reintegration and transitions for young offenders: guidance

Best practice information for local authorities, community planning partnership and service providers.

7. Core Services

7.1 Learning, Skills and Employability

Research indicates that training and employment are key factors for successful transitions and a reduction in offending behaviour. One study found that most young people who were able to achieve effective reintegration, had been in long-term stable placements and were continuing to receive an integrated package of support. 64 They were also more likely to have stable, supported post-care/release accommodation.

Disengagement from education, including lack of attainment, disaffection, persistent truancy and exclusion are strongly associated with offending. The Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime 65 , a longitudinal tracking study, found that one of the most important predictors of criminal record status was school exclusion by the third year of secondary education. Those in this category were almost two-and-a-half times more likely than those not excluded in this period to have a criminal record by age 19. The reasons for, and impact of, exclusion go far beyond engagement with education. Exclusion from school is not in itself a cause of further difficulties in later life, but it is an indicator of other issues which contribute to anti-social behaviour. For many young people in secure care and custody, education has not been a positive experience with many disengaging from a young age.

In many areas pre-referral screening is now established with the aim of identifying these young people and providing support earlier. Legislation highlights that education authorities have a duty to provide for these young people by offering an alternative curricular programme aimed at increasing the young person's motivation, skills, attainments, confidence and ability to make successful transitions. For young people who are looked after and accommodated by the local authority, education and social work staff must work together to support these young people to achieve their potential. Education providers have a duty to request information from appropriate agencies to support young people in making the transition from school to post-school successfully. 66

Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), which was implemented across every local authority in Scotland in August 2010 to improve the quality of learning and teaching and to raise standards for all children and young people takes a fresh approach to how, what and where young people learn, focusing on the individual needs of the learner and supporting them to achieve their individual aspirations and goals. CfE aims to improve educational outcomes for every child and young person and offers more choices and chances to those young people who need them most by enabling schools and their partners to plan and deliver a flexible and engaging curriculum that offers young people personalisation and choice, wherever the learning is taking place 67 .

During an evaluation of secure care in Scotland 68 , it became clear that most young people leaving secure care pursue a vocational career. For those who have been able to gain vocational qualifications or partial qualifications while in secure care, the findings are that the process of gaining placements or employment after their stay in secure care is more fluent and offers more opportunities for a clear employment route.

Delays in finding work or career opportunities has been shown to lead to self-doubt, boredom and a lack of direction for young people leaving secure care or custody which in turn can lead to re-offending. These are potentially key pitfalls of a transitional process.

The Careers Information, Advice and Guidance Strategy for Scotland outlines the government's commitment to all-age, universal Career Information Advice and Guidance ( IAG). It makes clear the important role that career professionals working through Skills Development Scotland ( SDS) centres and in the SDS contact centre have in helping people to develop their career management skills throughout their working lives. It also sets out the need to provide an enhanced blend of services to respond to the dynamic working landscape and the increasing demands of customers. Key to the strategy is the emphasis on strong partnership working, with SDS taking the lead role in fostering strategic partnerships with other organisations that provide CIAG services.

SDS provides assistance to unemployed young people, with intensive support to those who need enhanced support and guidance. It is responsible for delivering the National Training Programmes- Modern Apprenticeships, Get Ready for Work and Training for Work. My World of Work (MyWow) is the new website offering valuable information and tools to help individuals prepare for and develop their career. SDS is responsible for the delivery of such initiatives as ERI (Employer Recruitment Incentive) which is targeted at helping employers engage with supporting young people with barriers into Modern Apprenticeships such as young people from an offending background.

SDS has guidelines for school pupils in residential school settings and secure care as they return to their home area to ensure their home SDS centre makes contact with them. They have also started a pilot within HMPYOI Polmont and HMP Corton Vale to support young being in these establishments as they return home ( appendix 2)

7.2 Family Work

Research indicates that most young people return to their family of origin on leaving secure care and custody. Research also shows that family liaison work is an area to be developed in residential services and prison establishments. 69 Some of the following findings are evident from the reports:

  • home placements after secure care seem to fail frequently; and
  • in secure units informal family work takes place through the key worker. However, the frequency, intensity and results will vary greatly from worker to worker as the work isn't formalised, does not follow a therapeutic structure and does not aim for particular goals.

A range of other studies have shown that identifying placements for young people who are ready to move on from secure accommodation is difficult in some places and that these delays often result from a failure of corporate parents to work together in a timely fashion. 70

The need for more family work in secure units has been identified by several research studies. They suggest that after leaving secure care a high percentage of children will eventually return to live with their families and that improvements to family relationships may be crucial to ensuring and sustaining positive outcomes related to secure placements 71 . However, these studies have not described in detail the format family work in secure units takes nor have they evaluated what kind of family work is most effective.

To ensure successful reintegration, the young person and their family need to be involved and engaged throughout the process. Motivating them to take an active role in their plan, both in custody and on release, is crucial in preventing reoffending and for reintegration into the community. 72

Although, in the majority of cases, there is no legal requirement for social workers to undertake family work while a young person is in custody, to do so would be considered good practice. For young people subject to a supervision requirement, or who are entitled to aftercare support or have been sentenced under Section 208 of the Criminal Procedures (Scotland) Act 1995 and who will be released on licence, family work should be included in the young person's plan where appropriate. This would ensure that families are supported for the return of the young person to better aid reintegration.

7.3 Accommodation

Young people who do not or cannot return home, or where their home situation breaks down, are severely disadvantaged by the lack of appropriate supported accommodation which can lead to re-offending, being placed in risky situations or further trauma-related harm. This is especially the case for young people involved in offending who are leaving secure care or custody 73 .

Supported accommodation has been shown to be more effective than accommodation with less access to onsite support . Several factors impact on young people sustaining tenancies including high costs and expenses, too little support, loneliness and a lack of independent living skills. Factors which help to support tenancies include informal and formal support, choice in accommodation options, practical assistance with rents, bills and furnishing property and addressing young people's complex needs. 74

Having safe, supportive and sustainable accommodation is critical to successful reintegration. Research shows that inadequate accommodation is likely to have a significant negative impact on reoffending, and there is a documented link between severe accommodation problems or homelessness and recidivism. 75

Therefore, if a young person is to be successful in living independently, it is important that community support is integrated with other services who can continue to provide support when the need for the intensive phase has passed. This continuity of support is critical to fully realise and sustain the benefits of intervention and help young people further develop their life skills and enable them to make a successful transition to independent living.

7.4 Community Involvement

Community social workers need to be involved in a young person's sentence from the outset. Where a named person exists this should make transition easier. Length of sentence may influence this involvement, but initially the lead professional should be in contact with the secure provider or SPS to share the single plan information and contribute to the young persons single plan. For some young people going though the adult court, a criminal justice social worker may be the lead professional as part of through care and should follow the through care practice guidance. 76

If a young person is subject to a supervision requirement, this should not be terminated due to the fact that they have been given a custodial sentence. Any decision to terminate should be based on a need and risk assessment. As part of good practice, a 72 hour Looked After Review should be arranged by the local authority to take place in the YOI or secure unit for those young people subject to a supervision requirement through the Children's Hearing System or post sentence meeting for those who are not.

Planning for a young person's release should start at the point of sentence. If through the Children's Hearing System, this should involve re-assessment of risk and need to ensure that young people do not remain in secure care longer than is needed. If through the courts, the length of sentence is stated, so a definite release date can be planned for. The legal status of the young person may determine who from the community is most appropriate to provide support and the named person or lead professional can coordinate this.

If the young person is returning to their family home, work should be undertaken, where possible to ensure that the family/carers can provide for their needs and reduce any future risks of reoffending. If the young person is unable to return home or is homeless, plans should be put in place to ensure adequate accommodation is available for their release.

Communities also have a key role in the successful reintegration of young people returning to their area. Community planning partners should all be involved, where appropriate to support young people upon their return and integrate institutional interventions with community-based interventions in an un-broken continuum. 77

There are several good examples of local authorities and third sector providers who are working to improve reintegration and transitions for young people, see Appendix 3.

7.5 Substance Abuse

Research has shown that young people who offend are more likely to suffer from substance abuse problems than young people in society as a whole. 78 This will impact on a successful reintegration, in relation to accommodation, employment or training and further involvement in offending behaviour unless addressed.

Research undertaken by Bill McKinlay highlights the link between alcohol use and offending behaviour 79 :

  • The proportion of young people involved in offending in each survey's sample who stated that they get "drunk daily" rose from 7.3% (1979) to 22.6% (1996) to 40.1% (2007). This pattern of 'extreme' drinking by young people in the present era was confirmed by the interviews conducted in 2008;
  • The proportion who considered that alcohol had contributed to their previous offending rose from 47.9% to 58.4% to 79.6%. Interviewed young people, including those not currently in custody for an alcohol-related offence, were all able to provide details of offences they had committed under the influence of alcohol.

Young people should be assessed upon entering secure care or custody and should have access to specialist assessment and treatment where need dictates. If assessment highlights that issues need to be addressed when a young person moves within the prison or secure estate or is retuning to the community, this should be included within their plan and appropriate help given to support a successful reintegration.

Young people with substance abuse issues may need further counselling upon departure of the service as the substance abuse may be masking other feelings and unregulated stress that young people do not know how to deal with 80 . Offering opportunities for relaxation and building insight may lead to a greater understanding of their own needs and the possibility to make alternative choices. Work on building other contacts and networks will contribute to that, as will education or work placements. Motivation is the crucial factor as the young person needs to make the choice against the substance use.

7.6 Health & Mental Health

Mental health issues are likely to have the most serious impact on reintegration, but it is also important that young people's health in general is assessed.

The mental health needs of young people who have been in care are well documented. 81 One particular study in Scotland outlines the mental health needs of young people in secure care and how these can be met. 82 Young people who offend also have a disproportionate amount of mental health issues, with studies reporting that these are three times higher than the general population. 83

The most recent research into secure accommodation in Scotland suggests that additional investment into specialist mental health provision for looked after children and substance misuse counselling and support has increased the range of services available to work with children in secure units; mental health projects in particular have also provided a valuable consultation service for staff working in secure units 84 . In some cases these projects have also helped ensure better links to universal services, e.g. the health service. However, this is not always the case and Walker et al. (2006) found that some children in their study's mental health suffered because there was a lack of specialised help made available to them when they were in secure accommodation. To ensure smooth transitions and to support young people, any work to address health issues started in the community should continue if they are in secure care or custody.

When young people with mental health issues leave secure care or custody, there should be a full assessment undertaken by a mental health professional to ensure an appropriate service is available in their community to promote continuity of care which will address risk, need and vulnerability. 85

In relation to the general health needs of a young person, this should be provided within secure care and custody and support should be offered to ensure all young people are registered with the necessary health professionals when they return to the community.

Poor attendance at school will mean that many young people in secure care and custody will have missed out on various health education sessions. Establishments and professionals working with these young people should ensure that they have access to specialist services based on individual need and an appropriate health assessment which is designed to increase their knowledge.

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