Breaking the cycle of youth crime involves learning - not prison cells
Ambassador Rebecca shares details of an exciting new youth crime-prevention initiative, designed to help troubled children build self-confidence and empathy.
When I went off on my second maternity leave in 2018, I was acutely aware that Reach Academy Feltham was reaching a tipping point in its evolution. We'd been running the school for seven years, experiencing many highs and lows in that time. What kept Ed Vainker (my co-founder) and I, and the rest of the team, up at night were not the children in our school; it was the ones not in any school. The ones we knew ended up in Feltham Young Offenders or other prisons for children. The ones who were being completely failed by society and largely hidden away, behind the bars and locked doors of their cells.
I did a lot of learning about the youth custodial estate (while my second son was still tiny), and became more and more determined that something needed to change for these children. Through Natasha Porter (a fellow 2006 ambassador and the founder of Unlocked Graduates), I met Josh MacAlister (a 2007 Ambassador and the founder of Frontline). Like me, he'd been doing a lot of thinking about youth justice. I discovered he'd teamed up with Sophie Humphreys OBE, founder of Pause, and Michael Clark, Deputy Direct at Ark, to form the beginnings of Whatever It Takes (WIT): a UK youth offending charity/social enterprise whose mission is to break the destructive cycle of children and young people committing crimes.
On my return from maternity leave (and fuelled by the desire of Reach's board of trustees to support community-based initiatives), I was seconded to WIT for the academic year 2019-20 as Start-up Director.
A radical blueprint for breaking the cycle of crime
Behind the headlines about gang violence, knife crime or “county lines” drug running, it is becoming clear that the existing system for tackling the rise in such offences is inadequate, expensive and ineffective. More than two thirds (69.3%) of children released from custody in 2018 went on to re-offend in the following 12 months; a 4.7% increase over the last ten years. The price of this is paid not only by these young people themselves, but by everyone who depends on over-stretched public services, who wants a stronger sense of community, or who suffers the pain, heartbreak, misery and fear of being a victim of crime.
Whatever It Takes (WIT) offers a radical blueprint for the way we work with children and young people caught up in the destructive cycle of crime. Currently in its pilot stage, the charity provides children and young people (who are or are at risk of repeatedly committing crimes) with the support of a WIT Guide. These professionals will have the time, skills, experience and support to do whatever it takes to get alongside each child - helping them to change their lives so that, one day, their services will no longer be needed.
Helping young people every step of the way
Participants will typically spend 18 months with their WIT Guide, who are recruited from the very best professionals in teaching, social care, police, health and youth offending. Many of the children WIT works with will have experienced significant disruption to their education due to multiple factors, including child protection issues, poor attendance, or exclusion. We know the pathway to young people making a positive contribution to society, building their confidence and a better life for themselves must involve learning - so having educational expertise within our WIT teams is vital.
WIT Guides will support and challenge each child to identify their aspirational goals. They will find the hook for each young person. During their time with WIT, each child will be expertly supported and taught so that they maximise their academic achievement, particularly in reading, writing, and mathematics. They will also develop strong communication and life skills, and - crucially - build empathy and understanding of the world around them.
Each young person will also have a personal focus area, which will help identify the best pathway to achieve their aspirational goals - their WIT Guide will encourage and support them to ensure they feel able to pursue these. A young person will never just be ‘signposted’ to a course and left at the gates of a college. Instead, WIT Guides will be alongside them every step of the way.
Whatever It Takes' fist pilot has now launched in Kingston and Richmond, hosted by Achieving for Children, and more WIT teams will be launching in other areas throughout the year. Whatever It Takes will be recruiting for multiple inspiring WIT Guides with teaching experience across South East London early in 2021.
If you are interested in helping shape this new way of working, or want to learn more about opportunities with Whatever It Takes, contact Rebecca at Rebecca.Cramer@reachacademy.org.uk or Director of Practice Colin Cliff at email@example.com.