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
    job.”

    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
    now.”

    The Foyer Federation 020 7833 8616.

    http://www.foyer.net

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