The Big Interview: Young offenders project award winner

In the second of our interviews of BASW Scotland social work award winners Andrew Mickel talks to student Jennifer Lindsay (pictured) about her young offenders project in Falkirk

Starting a group project for young offenders is a daunting prospect, but Jennifer Lindsay managed to do it as a student on a social work placement. Lindsay is yet to complete her masters course at Stirling University in Scotland, but the group’s success has already won her the student social worker of the year practice award from the British Association of Social Workers Scotland.

The award-winning endeavour took place last summer while Lindsay was on a five-month placement with a children and family team in Falkirk. Although spending most of her time dealing with casework, she and another student spent one day a week setting up and then running group sessions for boys aged 12-15 with low level offending behaviour and drugs issues.

Lindsay had to hit the ground running. She says: “We started pretty much straightaway on the placement, thinking about what we were going to do, how we were going to get them involved. Setting it up took a lot of time – visiting other agencies, finding out what was the right age group to target. Then we had to pick people – trying not to mix high and low tariff offenders, trying to get them at about the same age and stage, and with the same kind of issues.”

Team focus

17 April 08 issueThe work was supported by the team, and obviously impressed them – it was Lindsay’s link worker and practice teacher who nominated her for the award. Lindsay is keen to point out that it was the team’s legwork that led to its success. But it also reflects her imagination when it came to finding ways of filling the scheme’s places. She says: “The last thing that young people want to be doing is spending time with social workers. But as we were going around talking to individuals and parents they were saying again and again: ‘is there going to be football?’ So we sorted training sessions at Falkirk football club and tours of stadiums to get them hooked in. The scheme really came from them.”

Before getting at the “treats”, the group of four to six boys would tackle issues in weekly activity-based group sessions. Like the incentives, the sessions were driven by finding out what the boys wanted to talk about. “We would look at offending behaviour, and drug and alcohol issues. We also did stuff about the community, exposing their views on it. Something that came out of that was [their view on] the police, so we got the police down to talk to them, building relationships with them that way.”

The success of Lindsay’s work can be seen by its lasting effects. The group has continued even after the original facilitators left, and now includes both boys and girls.

Working with young offenders is a big change from the French and European Union Politics degree Lindsay completed at Edinburgh University in 2004. After her course she spent two years doing “bits and pieces”, trying to decide her future. It was a volunteer placement with a drugs programme in her home town of Dundee that nudged Lindsay onto her new career path.

“I knew I wanted to work with people. While I worked there I only saw each person for five minutes, but I learned that in that time you can try and make those people feel good about themselves, while imparting information about safe practices of drug use. I decided social work would be the way into the field more formally.”

Social work studies

Now 25, she is coming to the end of a MSc in social work studies at Stirling University. In the short term, Lindsay has a weekend break in Prague to look forward to, won as part of the BASW award. Her enthusiasm is apparently not restrained by leaving the country – while there she is keen to see a Czech social work department in action.

But after her award-winning group work, she also has something to come back to. “I just got a job yesterday with Falkirk Council. It will be the same sort of thing as before, and hopefully I’ll be able to look into setting up new groups.”

This article appeared in the 17 April issue under the headline “Casting off the L plates”

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