In from the cold

Cutting reoffending rates among young offenders is a key
government target. Linda Steele reports on how foyers are well
placed to help young people get off the streets and into work.

Francis is happy. And why shouldn’t he be? He’s going to college
in September to study for GCSEs, he’s shortly to begin an
apprenticeship, and he and his girlfriend are planning to live
together. He’s 17 and life’s fine.

But things were different a year or so ago. He’d been in court
several times for burglary and assault and was on a supervision
order. He was drinking a lot.

Then, a youth homelessness project suggested a foyer, and things
began to look up.

Francis discussed and signed an agreement – a prerequisite for
everyone moving into a foyer – outlining his goals. They were “to
stop drinking, do my GCSEs and go into employment”. He’s on course
to achieve them. “Stopping drinking was the hardest thing but I had
the key worker to talk to about why I’m drinking,” he says. And
reoffending isn’t on the cards.

Foyers have existed in this country for just under a decade.
There are 105 in the UK offering accommodation and support to
disadvantaged people aged 16-25 in need of a home. They don’t just
house those with a criminal record – indeed, they argue that young
offenders can benefit from a mixed and “balanced community”, rather
than an offender-only environment.

But where they differ from other supported accommodation is
their emphasis on helping residents find employment and training.
This would seem to make them an obvious resource for probation and
youth offending teams (YOTs). After all, key factors in criminal
recidivism are homelessness and unemployment.

But, according to Carolyn Hayman, chief executive of the Foyer
Federation, statutory criminal justice services have been slow to
see the advantages. “Foyers have good relationships with probation
but they can’t get the money for people who need a lot of support,”
she says. Sixteen- and 17-year-olds are more likely to need extra
assistance to help them “let off steam without disastrous
consequences” and make best use of foyer opportunities. The
federation is offering partnership grants, funded by the Gatsby
Charitable Foundation, whereby YOTs put up half the money (probably
£750 a year per person) to enable foyers to offer places to
young offenders needing “enhanced support”. But there aren’t many
takers yet.

Things may change – reducing young offenders’ reconviction rates
by 5 per cent is one of New Labour’s targets. And the Youth Justice
Board (YJB) is demanding that YOTs ” be much more active in
developing supported accommodation for young peopleÉ foyers
are one potential development,” says Judy Renshaw, YJB senior
policy adviser. Foyers are useful, she says, as they “promote a
culture of work and attendance”.

The government’s social exclusion unit is carrying out research
on cutting reoffending rates by ex-prisoners, including youths.
“Seventy-six per cent of young offenders released from prison in
1996 were reconvicted within two years, compared with 52 per cent
of the adult population,” says a unit spokesperson. “We know that
those who reoffend are more likely to be homeless, to lack stable
family ties or to have drug problems. We also know that one of the
surest ways to reduce reoffending is to help someone find a

Dorothy Stevens is a YOT officer whose North Oxfordshire team
has made good links with a foyer in Banbury. She thinks that at
least two of the four young offenders on her books who have lived
there might well have reoffended without the foyer’s input. None of
the four has.

“Once they have a roof over their head, had a period settling
down, found a niche – training or work – they begin to feel good
about themselves and can look at their problems and find other
solutions [than crime],” she explains. “Foyers provide a necessary
service for young people because the support network they tap
provides them with so much more than we can.

“We’ll see young people on supervision orders twice a week, so
if a housing benefit form needs filling in, they have to wait.”

Banbury foyer manager David Gould says: “Partnership is a
practice, not a slogan. Any young person could present extremely
different issues, so we might need five agencies to bring expertise
to bear.”

In line with a timetable drawn up from the formal agreement, the
foyer sets up bespoke training in-house, for example, in literacy,
numeracy and life skills, IT, counselling and art therapy. Or they
find relevant courses and services outside and assist the young
person to attend, maybe accompanying them to their first session,
or help them apply for jobs and make sure they go. “We’re bringing
the services to the individual and keeping tabs on them,” says
Gould. “It’s quite targeted and intensive. It’s about their
nine-to-five working week.”

It’s very structured, but the emphasis is on encouragement,
discussion and support, not enforcement. As well as assisting
access to appropriate services or training, each key worker is
there to lend an ear or help with problems.

But research to determine whether all this reduces recidivism
has yet to be done. “The common sense answer is thatÉ if
foyers offer stable housing and opportunities, linked to job
search, skills training and support, it would be likely to reduce
offending,” says a spokesperson for offender rehabilitation agency
Nacro, which runs a foyer in south-east London.

Common sense is good enough for Francis. “The foyer has given me
a lot of support and helped sort my life out,” he says. “I’m happy

The Foyer Federation 020 7833 8616.

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.