Difficult-to-engage young people are being attracted to Rapp, a project in Hull which stakes its reputation on experience and independence. Sarah Wellard reports
Teenagers aren’t always keen to listen to teachers and social workers telling them to keep out of trouble. But they might
be willing to listen to someone with firsthand experience of the wrong side of the criminal justice system.
The Hull-based Humber Mentoring Programme, managed by Humber Connexions advocate Chris Lennie and Peter Brooke, a reformed ex-offender, is proving so successful in persuading young people to think again about offending that it is now taking bookings for autumn 2007. Lennie says: “Peter’s experience is invaluable in getting young people to listen. Because he’s been there, he’s able to dispel some of the myths and be a positive role model.”
As well as being purchased by youth offending institutions and antisocial behaviour teams across the region, half of the secondary schools in Hull have signed up to the programme. The scheme is accredited and involves more than just an ex-con talking about the unpleasantness of prison life. Lennie says: “We provide up to 20 structured sessions covering myriad
issues on crime and offending, including attitudes towards crime, the impact of offending on victims, gun and knife crime,
bullying and racism and social responsibility.” A pilot is under way to use the programme for national curriculum projects.
One of these looks at the history of the penal system.
The programme is particularly effective in motivating disaffected young people. Lennie says: “Pupils who teachers tell
us won’t listen for 15 minutes are sitting spellbound for an hour-and-a-half. They’re getting involved and giving presentations themselves. Head teachers find the programme has such a good effect on some of their most difficult pupils that they’ve asked us to do one-to-one work.”
The Hull antisocial behaviour team is a particularly satisfied client. A flat on a depressed housing estate was home to a
course for young people who were truanting. Lennie says: “We had 70 per cent attendance rates. These were young people
who had dropped out of everything. Two of them even returned to school.”
The mentoring programme is run by the Rights Advocacy and Participation Project (Rapp) which has a long-established reputation in Hull for working with difficult to engage young people and for building effective partnerships with the police,
Connexions and other local services. Rapp was set up in 1997 as a response to young people who were falling through existing
Craig Clark, initially seconded to the project as a children’s rights officer, is now project manager. He says: “We were
working with a gang of young people who were leading chaotic and risky lifestyles – running away from home and care, using
solvents, involved in offending. Some of them weren’t at school. Some were on the child protection register but avoiding
contact with social workers.”
Initially funded primarily by Save the Children, since 2003 the project’s main supporter has been the local authority, alongside the Warren resource centre and Connexions Humber. Crucially, the project is still regarded by users as a source of independent advice. Clark says: “The independence of the project is a massive plus in terms of why young people are willing to work with us. We’re not seen as part of social services or another statutory service.”
As well as running the mentoring programme and providing rights advice and advocacy for vulnerable young people in the city, Rapp also offers training courses for social care staff. The courses involve exploration of some of the issues which young people using the Rapp rights service have presented over the years, including experiences of bullying and growing up in care.
Cindy Brogan works as a trainer and mentor at Rapp as well as studying parttime at university for a diploma in youth and community work. She began using Rapp in her early teens.
“I didn’t have other people I could talk to,” she recalls. “Now I work as a mentor, talking to young people and using my experiences to help them. I also deliver training about my experiences of being in care to foster carers and social workers.”
● Close working relationships with agencies such as Connexions and social services are crucial but so too is a strong independent identity. Vulnerable young people need to feel confident that services are independent of statutory agencies.
● In running the crime-diversion mentoring programme, a structured and professional approach, together with accreditation, reassures schools that risks are properly managed and that the programme has planned and targeted outcomes.
● A personal adviser working one-to-one with the most vulnerable young people supports and builds upon the group work provided in schools, pupil referral units and young offender institutions.
● Young people working as trainers need to be adequately supported, especially when they are talking about personal