Beyond Youth Custody

What helps young women when leaving custody?

Paul Crozier
Programme Manager of Safe Choices project

When asked to talk about what factors help young women to resettle successfully when leaving custody a number of things sprang to mind – recognising the trauma many young women may have been through, addressing this through therapeutic support, the impact of sexual exploitation and the importance of having at least one positive relationship with a significant adult, fighting their corner.

At Safe Choices, we all agree that one factor is key to making other types of support successful – housing. Not just the four walls a young woman stays in, but the people they share it with, the people around it, and the environment they are placed in.

Often young women seem to be housed with little regard for the role their environment had in causing offending and a poor understanding of the communities they are placed in. Many young women may say they have learnt their lesson, (and in many ways mean it), but a return to an environment or community where they face pressure to put up a front and  behave in a certain way can lead them back to old patterns of behaviour.

Young women may be housed near – very near – individuals or groups that have previously sexually exploited them. They might even accept that this is the culture, the expectation for how they should behave – just what happens. Professionals sometimes don’t understand these factors and instead of considering the bigger picture and impact of environment on these young women, they shift the blame back on them stating it’s their choice to re-offend. That completely ignores how these complex pressures can make it impossible to re-settle successfully. If they are in an environment where they are constantly re-traumatised, all efforts to support them are undermined.

So what makes a difference? Housing young women in different locations away from their old environments can help. It’s only really effective though when the young women are supported to have new experiences and build new relationships. These can help young women build up their self-esteem, take positive steps and change how they interact with their old environments, (and the people in them), when they do return. Engaging and interested foster placements, therapeutic placement and the right education settings are all good examples of a supportive environment making a difference for young women.

Getting this support, being housed in the right place, can be a challenge though. At Safe Choices we take an advocacy role on behalf of young women leaving custody. We have challenged statutory agencies to see the whole picture and make sure the right housing and environment underpins other support. We have supported young women to work with other voluntary agencies to challenge decisions themselves. We have also worked with young women and their families, interacting with housing and benefits agencies, assisting in making these placements work.

All of these elements are incredibly important, ensuring the young women that we work with are released to safe and secure environments and feel comfortable to access support services that will help them to achieve a more positive future for themselves and their families.

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Resettlement of young offenders: informing practice, improving outcomes