Beyond Youth Custody

Young and gifted: how the ADAPT model mentors young people and reduces reoffending

Julia Pennington
Operations Manager, Offender Services, Salford Foundation

Julia Pennington describes the approach that ADAPT has to building relationships with young people and the qualities of effective staff.

ADAPT is a 3-year big lottery funded programme that works with young people aged 15-25, offering support tailored to each individual young person. It:

  • enhances their resilience, confidence and self esteem
  • builds education, training and employment opportunities
  • ensures that the young person has a voice.

As the programme has evolved we have also found that it is having a direct impact on reoffending rates. Its effectiveness is currently being measured by external evaluators.

Why does it work?

The ADAPT programme has a mentoring approach which draws on the life experiences of our staff to help young people. Many of the staff have grown up in areas of high crime. Some are ex-offenders and others have been through their own personal struggles. They have come through this successfully, and have gone on to train to a professional level and gain experience of working with hard to reach young people. The model in itself is designed to prove to young people that they can change if they make the right choices. We have added to staff’s skill by teaching the basis of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and ensured there is a focus on enhancing emotional functioning.

We approach young people on their level, showing them that we can relate to them, using their language to communicate with them and ensuring they know we genuinely care about their success while maintaining a professional role and ensuring there are firm boundaries. This can be a difficult balance to strike. However, it is my view that part of the reason this works is because young people know that we care and that we have been where they are. This generates a level of mutual respect, something many young people have never experienced before. We let young people know that the only difference between them and us is the choices we have made. This in turn allows them to feel empowered and gives them some hope that there is more to life than offending. We challenge negative perceptions and work with the young person to identify their gifts and talents, supporting them in both recognising and enhancing the positive aspects of their personality.

Many of our young people have never had any dreams, goals or aspirations. Instead they act out how they feel about themselves and others, which is reflected in their criminal offences and their journey of self destruction. Many young people have had traumatic experiences or feel unloved, rejected and unwanted by families, which can be emotionally difficult to cope with, along with the guilt that comes with living an extremely negative lifestyle, which in many cases involves hurting others and lashing out based on their feelings.

We encourage young people to understand the reasons they believe that crime is all they are worth and have open discussions with them around their thoughts and feelings and how this impacts upon their behaviour. We have become skilled at looking at negative core beliefs and addictive behaviours and support the young person to understand why they function the way they do. This in turn creates a self awareness, they are then more skilled at being able to realise their own triggers and patterns of behaviour which empowers them as they begin to feel in control of themselves and their lives.

Clearly developing this sort of relationship with a young person does take time, they have to trust you as many feel they have been let down by their loved ones and a whole host of professionals since then. Most of our work involves unpicking things to get to the root cause of why a young person lacks confidence, self beliefs and aspiration. This is generally done through conversation and during sessions that are aimed at creating real lasting change. A session with a young person can include applying for benefits or housing and completing CVs, so they have a legitimate income while we work with them to ensure they are work ready and emotionally stable.

Targets are set around creating stability in their life. This can include supporting them to get housing, enhancing independent living skills, supporting them to access benefits and employment, supporting them to enhance their communication skills and advocacy, to name a few. Ultimately the approach is needs-led and the young person dictates the direction in which they want the journey to go.

I feel it is relevant to mention context. Many of these discussions will happen in the car on the way to housing appointments. It does tend to be unplanned. A young person may make a disclosure that gives us some insight into their way of functioning. Many, we find, have such a negative opinion of themselves that they see no other way.

Ultimately the journey for many is ongoing, but the intervention from ADAPT is recognised as being effective and many who engage with us choose a different lifestyle after realising that they do have potential. Ultimately instilling self worth and self belief are key factors to ensuring a young person is equipped in making the right choices going forward.

What young people say about ADAPT

Our peer-led approach is highly valued for being non-judgmental and caring.

“People at ADAPT show you respect and speak to you with respect. They volunteer to help you and they respond quickly if you find yourself in a difficult situation – as long as you put the work in and you show them that same gratitude.”

“The staff are great. If you need someone to talk to, they are there. ADAPT help you more than other organisations because they listen to you and they will try to get your life moving forward. When people listen it’s like they care more. I hope that the work that I’m doing with ADAPT will one day get me into a job.”

“With ADAPT there was no prejudice or discrimination because I’m an ex-offender.”

“ADAPT people get down to your level to understand where you’re coming from. They have more experience than you, and they ask you to try things their way. There is some hard work but it is followed by a reward. It’s a smart way to keep you motivated.”

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Resettlement of young offenders: informing practice, improving outcomes