When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the UK and MTC adopted our Exceptional Delivery Model, the Senior Attendance Centres (SACs) were instantly affected. Delivered on Saturdays, the SACs work with young people aged 18 to 24 years, helping them to understand their own actions, explore a pro-social identity and providing time for exercise alongside targeted, semi- structured workshop sessions that are grounded in a trauma-informed approach. This intervention has revealed exceptional levels of success in helping service users turn their lives around.
“Much of this success,” says Sharon Kirk, Head of SACs, “is down to the remarkable men and women who work as facilitators every weekend.” Many of these are not full-time employees, in that they often work in other roles in the week, and current facilitators include prison officer, police, ballet dancers, teachers and stay-at-home parents and carers. “Having facilitators from different disciplines provides an eclectic mix of knowledge, experience and delivery style,” adds Sharon.
Working despite the pandemic
During the pandemic however, the centres have had to shut down and instead the SAC team have developed a one-to-one telephone engagement service, helping the young people to complete their hours and ensuring a meaningful level of support and contact remains throughout.
“At the moment we are making phone calls from home,” explains Sam, a facilitator and stay-at-home mum, “we have a guide sheet we go through with them – making sure they understand the current situation, what social distancing means. We discuss how they’re doing workwise, how they’re keeping active and not offending.”
Building good relationships
While a lot of the young people are missing the team-building games and sports that they play each week, Sam is confident that the team are pulling together. “We’ve managed to build really good relationships over the telephone,” she says, “we chat about normal regular things. How their family are. Can they get their shopping okay? We also have a focused topic to discuss week and the young people are given homework which is reviewed the following week. For example: budget management, cannabis withdrawal and healthy eating.”
The young people have to be available for the full three hours and the facilitators can ring them for 30 to 45 minute long conversations at any point within this time. This ensures they are still completing their hours and that the facilitators can have genuine, meaningful conversations with each young person. “Service users have reported finding the one-to-one calls very useful and have talked more openly about their challenges and concerns, however they look forward to coming back to the group,” explains Sharon.
Sam is passionate about the SACs and the influence they can have. Her dad ran the centre for nearly 30 years and she has worked there herself for 15 years. ‘Many of these young people have had a difficult start, and the key, she says, is that everyone is treated equally and with respect, “they’re treated like adults and we listen. If something goes wrong, we have a team briefing, we discuss it and we work out how to support them better. We’re still doing that now over the phone.”
Subtlety and humanity
The work done by facilitators is often extremely challenging and requires exceptional amounts of humanity, subtlety and care. All SAC facilitators have years of experience and advanced group work and engagement skills. Facilitators constantly go above and beyond, one instance being in the female SAC where a service user told her officer in charge that she had an eating disorder and hadn’t eaten in several days. Over the phone, the officer in charge encouraged and supported the young woman to make and drink a banana milkshake while they chatted. “This is one way of creatively engaging a service user over the phone which has a positive impact on their health and wellbeing,” explains Sharon.
A male service user had been sleeping in his car because he was concerned about his home being in the centre of gang violence. His facilitator helped him secure a temporary hostel placement so that he was both out of his car and away from his area. His mum contacted the SAC to thank them, and he’s now completed an online course in plastering with ETE services. “Concrete outcomes that have a significant impact on a service user’s life,” Sharon says.
‘We are there to facilitate’
Even over the phone, the facilitators are hard at work, checking in with service users and ensuring they are functioning as best they can despite these challenging times. Facilitators listen, guide, challenge. Support and signpost to relevant courses, and information. We not only discuss offending we focus on health and well-being and linking into ETE support and services to secure employment and training. “We are there to facilitate,” Sam says, “Sometimes it’s hard because the young people aren’t chatty, but they’re the best ones because you know that in six months, they’ll be the ones leading the sessions.”
Sharon agrees, “it is a very powerful experience to watch a young person grow and become more confident and living within the law. The SAC’s are a unique intervention that uses a holistic approach to ensure that the service users are fully supported and encouraged to develop a pro-social identity and live a non-offending lifestyle.”