Zac Kelly is a lively 10-year-old. When he sees the slide in the adventure playground he quickly scrambles to the top, showing off his balancing skills. Watching him in the spring sunshine is his 28-year-old mother Kelly Kelly, smiling and looking relaxed. Although this may seem like an ordinary scene, for the Kellys, until recently, it was not. Eighteen months ago the family’s life was being severely disrupted by Zac’s challenging behaviour. He would regularly punch and kick holes in walls at home, fight with his younger brother and sister, and be aggressive and disruptive at school.
The reason Zac and his mum Kelly are enjoying a peaceful afternoon together is because of the work Portsmouth Council’s preventing youth offending project (PYOP) has done with the family. The project engages with young people exhibiting antisocial behaviour and is the only preventing youth offending scheme in England that supports the whole family and not just the young person.
PYOP’s work feeds into the council’s community safety team, which in March was awarded Beacon status by the Improvement and Development Agency for its innovative practice on preventing and tackling antisocial behaviour.
Kelly is not surprised Portsmouth Council has been recognised by the IDeA for its good practice, as she credits PYOP with helping transform her family. “At the beginning, me and my husband, Chris, were willing to undertake anything to help but thought it was just another waste of time. After a couple of weeks, we noticed a difference and now Zac is a different child. I am very proud of him.”
Zac is also happy he had Paul O’Brien as his support worker for 18 months: “I was surprised I got a project worker like Paul, it was really good,” Zac says. “I was worried because Paul’s got messy hair and he supports Aston Villa.” It was this love of football that O’Brien says he used as a way of initially engaging Zac persuading him to join the project’s weekly football group. The pair’s work together ended recently.
PYOP team manager Tonia Earey says one of the reasons the project works is because young people access it voluntarily rather than it being imposed on them as a condition of a conviction, and because the support workers go out of their way to reach clients. “Assertive outreach is not something a lot of youth agencies do and we go out there and target young people,” explains Earey. “If we know ‘Fred’ hangs out in the park, we go and find him there.”
PYOP project manager and qualified social worker Bruce Marr was previously a team manager in the council’s children and families service. He believes the initiative is constructive because it follows a social care model to look at the young person’s needs holistically, and uses the common assessment framework with clients rather than youth offending assessment tools such Onset and Asset. “Preventive services and early intervention to address antisocial and offending behaviour are more effective for young people,” concludes Marr.
His views are supported by a University of Portsmouth evaluation report into the project’s work, which states: “Since the beginning of the evaluation in 1998, the impact of PYOP intervention with persistent young offenders has significantly reduced their risk of reoffending.”
Preventing Youth Offending Project Portsmouth
One-to-one way to get children out of crime
In August 1998, Portsmouth Council launched the Persistent Youth Offending Project after local police identified that 75% of offences were committed by the same 16 young people. It was renamed the Preventing Youth Offending Project in 2002.
The project’s 10 support workers share a caseload of about 130 live cases and work for as long as necessary with clients typically aged between 12 and 13, although they can be as young as eight. The project deals with the young person’s social care, education, housing and community safety issues through one-to-one support, group work and outdoor activities such as football. PYOP also runs trips for its clients’ siblings and a group for young people’s fathers.
Referrals to the project can be made by schools, social workers, police or other professionals. Between April 2005 and May 2006, referrals increased by 44%.
Tips for better practice with antisocial behaviour
● Engage with young people but do not attempt to “parent” them.
● Build honest and open relationships with a young person and their family.
● Be very specific about what you are trying to achieve with them.
● Do not say to a parent “your child must not behave antisocially” instead, focus on what the young person can do.
● Identify easy goals that they can achieve. This should go some way towards boosting their confidence.
● Do not allow a child’s negative behaviour to cloud your sight of their successes.
● Maintain your boundaries and do not get drawn into or distracted by other issues failure to do this could lead to inadvertent collusion with the young person.
● Be tenacious and do whatever it takes to work with the client.
Contact the author
Anabel Unity Sale
This article appeared in the 31 May issue under the headline “‘Messy-haired’ Aston Villa fan scores in Portsmouth”