Lara Brettell wanted to work with children at risk of offending because she believes the earlier that services intervene the better the chance of success
I ask myself sometimes whether it was a cop-out to move from a job working face-to-face with prolific young offenders under intensive court orders to one managing a voluntary project with children at risk of offending.
At the extreme end of the youth offending service, young people were often in desperate situations. Little or no parental support or guidance, low levels of self-belief and a lack of opportunities resulting from both past circumstances and current situations. This often left them disenchanted and hard to motivate.
Nearly five months ago, I took the project manager’s post at the Youth Inclusion and Support Panel (Yisp) at the YMCA in Cambridge. This offered me the chance to work with younger and more receptive children whose behaviour and attitudes are less ingrained and where they can be prevented from coming into contact with the criminal justice system.
Keen and relaxed
Their parents are also involved and receive support from the Yisp, an approach that increases the chance of changing the behaviour of the young people. Parents see the YMCA as less formal than the statutory sector and consequently feel more relaxed and keen to engage.
You might expect my job to be a smooth ride but the government only guaranteed funding until January 2009, which creates uncertainty about the project. Fortunately, the entire YMCA management backed the Yisp and I immediately started recruiting and retaining the right staff for the project. This was helped when the government extended funds until May 2009 while it finalised its long-term plans.
The delay in government plans has hampered my ability to plan long term. As frustrating as this can be, the Yisp team has believes in the value of the work it is doing and the element of uncertainty has brought us closer together. The staff know the money could run out, which would leave them out of a job, but they are willing to take a risk and seem to have a heightened sense of determination.
It is true that the children at the Yisp and their families are more receptive than the young offenders at the youth offending service, but these are still often troubled youngsters with complex needs and difficult backgrounds.
The Yisp project is determined to provide a high level service to families and I continue to increase our external links, informing agencies of the service and encouraging referrals.
The enthusiasm and passion from both my team and my superiors, along with interventions that are receiving good feedback from clients and other agencies, encourages me to believe that the project has a long-term future.
Ultimately, it was the plight of the young people at the youth offending service that moved me to work with younger children. I wanted to prevent them reaching such an unhappy and dire situation by empowering them and their families to take control of their lives and make positive choices.
Those repeat young offenders still motivate me and stay at the forefront of my thoughts at the Yisp. But it’s the generation coming up behind them that I don’t want to abandon to a life of offending and involvement with the criminal justice system.
Lara Brettell is co-ordinator at the YMCA’s Youth Inclusion and Support Panel in CambridgeThis article is published in the 13 November 2008 edition of Community Care under the headline “Get them while they’re young to prevent a future of crime”