Rigid Bar Handcuffs

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Here it is: 3 out of 3…
1.  This series of 3 started with exploring why people get so mad about youth crime. Why they call for more punishment.
2.  In my last post, we looked at some of the background drivers to offending. Essentially the ingredients of a really bad start in life.
3. This post starts to identify what workers and systems need to do if they are to help young people stop offending.

So what needs to happen?

Few would argue that consequences should follow after crimes are committed. No crime should be swept under the carpet. Justice wouldn’t be served by such an approach. So what else needs to happen?

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After over 30 years dealing with young people and 20 years of working with young offenders, here are a few things I would advocate:

  • Young offenders need people who see the whole person – even the term “young offenders” isn’t helpful! It’s as if that’s all they are. Offenders. Where did the “child” go? If you see an offender, you’ll treat them that way. See the child and you have a hope of helping them move on.
  • Young people who offend need advocates – They need people like us. People who know them. People who understand them in a balanced way and will stand up for them. The problems listed in the last post are legion and are causal in fuelling crime. Now we need to make these known and shout about the answers. If you don’t stick up for their rights, who will?
  • Young people in trouble need help – when you review the challenges they face, it’s hard to see how punishment alone will help. Someone needs to understand the problem/s and do something to help. And not give up.
  • Remember that young offenders are children still – adults making judgments about children as if they were grown ups already, isn’t fair. It’s not right either. Especially for children who’ve had a rough start. Every adult has an obligation to protect and be kind to every child – at least that’s how I try to be.
  • Value them for who they are – young people who offend have many attributes. Offending is just one of them. A sense of humour and fun, genuine kindness, unexpressed talents, willingness to help and deep concern for others (especially younger siblings) are just some of the things I’ve observed. Look beyond the offence/s and find the positive. Then celebrate it!
  • Wherever possible, work relationally  – disaffected and disadvantaged young people need to connect. They need to belong. If you belong to something you are a lot less likely to damage it. Young people who’ve offended, often have very little sense of investment in society. It’s offered them nothing so far. And now that they’ve offended, it is punishing them. You can change that. Build a relationship – this is the overarching priority for everyone who wants to help troubled young people to change. If they feel valued, they’ll value in return – more on this in another post later on.
  • Give a damn – if you don’t, they’ll know. If young people twig that this is about paying your mortgage, they’ll run a mile. You’ll be just another statistic in a line of failed professional efforts to “help” them. Help is altruistic. The motive matters. Whilst there are some things you can do to communicate that you care, basically you either do or you don’t – kids are great at knowing which it is. I reckon you have about 30 seconds maximum to get this across when you first meet them.

Key point…

We’re back to trust again. Review the list above. Basically it adds up to being someone whom young people feel they can trust.
This is foundational in our efforts to intervene in their lives in a meaningful way.

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6 results of being trusted…

Here a few things that can result from your work, if the young person feels that they can trust you:

  • They’ll listen – and be more inclined to take on board what you say
  • They’ll speak – more honestly than ever they would otherwise
  • They’ll be influenced – by those they like and trust; we all are.
  • They’ll initiate – by asking you for help and telling you what they need you to do
  • They’ll soften – the real kid will emerge out from behind the behaviours they’ve adopted in order to cope
  • They’ll mature – eventually! Maturity is the biggest cause of desistance from crime. Don’t under-estimate it.

I believe that a system that places relational working and the establishment of trust at the heart of interventions with troubled young people, will avert offending. It may take a while – up to 18 months in my experience – but it’s worth it.
They’re worth it!

What do you think?…

These are just my initial thoughts based on my experience and reading.

1.  What are your best tips for working effectively with young people who offend?

2.  How do you first greet young people when you meet them – how crucial do you think this encounter is?

Leave a comment below or click here.

Related previous posts…

Pass it on…

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© Jonny Matthew 2013

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