Sixty second interview with Mieke Vrijhof
Mieke Vrijhof has been appointed as the first chief executive of Trail-Blazers, a charity that recruits and trains volunteers to become mentors to young offenders between the ages of 15-21. The charity currently provides mentoring services at Feltham and Aylesbury young offender institutions. Vrijhof previously worked in the homelessness sector.
What are the benefits of mentoring for young offenders?
It gives a young person somebody who is there just for them – somebody who cares, somebody who is concerned. For many of the young people Trail-blazers works with, this is something they have not encountered in their lives before now. Mentoring will help with building young people’s self-esteem and confidence and to prepare them for life outside prison. It helps young people to stabilise, re-integrate into mainstream society and hopefully stop them from re-offending.
How long are young offenders mentored under the scheme, and what skills do they gain?
Mentoring starts three to six months before release and carries on for six to nine months after release and sometimes much longer. The young offender will be encouraged to undertake an OCN (Open College Network) accredited course in Life and Social Skills, which includes healthy living, assertiveness and decision-making, preparation for work and health and safety. There are plans to expand the course. The mentor works with the young person to achieve the accreditation whilst in prison. Once the young person is released, the mentor will help with housing issues, training, job seeking and any other issues that might arise as well as give emotional support.
What type of volunteers do you work with, and what training do they get?
Trail-Blazers works with volunteers from all backgrounds. Volunteers go through a stringent selection process and receive intensive training which again leads to accreditation. Potentially anyone with common sense, compassion, listening skills and some life experience could become a mentor.
What kind of success does your scheme have, and how is this measured?
It is a difficult thing to measure – because the scheme does not carry on monitoring mentees after they have decided that they will ‘go it alone’. Inevitably some of those we have worked with will re-offend, but we feel that we generally make a difference – which is confirmed by those who have had mentors or those who are currently being mentored.
What plans do you have to expand the scheme to other YOIs?
Eventually I would like to see branches of Trail-Blazers in every YOI in England and I certainly expect to have established at least one other branch and possibly more this time next year. We know that the Prison Service values our efforts greatly and so do the young offenders.