A youth intervention officer, Bruce Newman, discusses his work with Schools Multi Agency Resource Team (SMART) and the approaches he uses to work with young people, including restorative justice
Background to my role
Eighteen years, several stone and no grey hairs ago, I joined the Avon and Somerset Constabulary. A young, impressionable and enthusiastic police constable about to set forth into the big, bad world to right wrongs, administer justice and change the planet! It seems like yesterday but time has moved on and things have changed.
Back in 1996 I transferred to the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary and after spending 15 years of being a response officer in different police forces I decided on a change of role. I felt that it was time for a new challenge and I applied for a training course to become a youth intervention officer (YIO). It was during my YIO training that I was first introduced to a process called restorative justice (RJ). About a year after the successful completion of the course, I was made aware of an exciting secondment opportunity for a police officer to work with a new multi-agency team that was being set up to work in schools in the area of Camborne, Pool and Redruth. I was offered the job and started in May 2005. Prior to joining the police, I was involved in voluntary work with Radio Lollipop, an international charity providing support for children in hospital. I had thoroughly enjoyed this work because of the direct and positive contact I had with children and young people. Now I was able to utilize my previous experiences, combined with my police skills, in a really proactive way.
A typical-ish day
Schools Multi Agency Resource Team (SMART)
During the summer 2005 the team was assembled and between us we initiated our various systems, referrals and procedures. We also came up with a name – SMART – Schools Multi Agency Resource Team. I represent the police and the team also involves education, health and social care professionals.
My main role within SMART was identified as a specialist in RJ, a process which puts the victim first. It provides an opportunity for an offender to take responsibility for their actions by coming face to face with the person whom they have harmed – allowing them to make reparation and subsequently be reintegrated back into the community. When I was first introduced to RJ I was far from convinced. I thought it seemed a bit idealistic and that it would not work in the ‘real world’. How wrong I was! A while after my YIO training course, I was asked to respond to an incident that I would normally be driving away from with an additional ‘passenger’ on board followed by a radio conversation similar to, ‘Could you let custody know we are on the way and have one person under arrest.’ I used RJ and consequently the situation was resolved without an arrest. Following on from this I started using the principles of RJ increasingly in schools and in the community. I then went and trained as a facilitator, then as a trainer and eventually as a trainer of trainers.
Since working with SMART I have used the principles of RJ to deal positively with many of the everyday incidents that can occur in any primary and secondary school. Successful outcomes have been achieved when dealing with a wide variety of offences including theft, cyberbullying, assaults etc. I have also trained a range of staff in schools and this has really facilitated my work and the work of colleagues supporting young people. For example, recently I was supporting a young lad in a local secondary school with some anger issues, which can manifest themselves in marginally criminal behavior. I worked with him to address these issues using restorative questioning. He also has a teaching assistant in school who I have previously trained as an RJ facilitator and as result, we were both able to use a common and consistent language when working with him. Initially there was very little knowledge of RJ in the local schools, however, following some success dealing with specific incidents in different schools the word started to spread and as a consequence there are now nearly 30 school staff across the area who are trained as RJ facilitators and are actively implementing the processes in their work with children and young people. This has enabled a constant approach and one focused on identifying solutions and preventing problems from escalating. It is an approach that works and is benefitting the young people we are working with in a myriad of ways. It is about intervening at the right time and in a way which works for young people. The approach also works well for the range of staff in school and means we have the same philosophy in the way we work to support young people. This aids communication and joint planning.
My work with multi-agency colleagues is an integral aspect of my role. We work in an integrated way, regularly meeting to share information and assessments and discuss intervention and progress. We bring a range of skills and professional experience to the table and work collaboratively to promote educational and social inclusion. I will, for example, work alongside the social worker to support students with poor attendance and those at risk of exclusion and with other colleagues, such as learning mentors, to support students with behavior issues. Together we can offer a targeted package of support for young people and their families. Moreover, we co-facilitate training and programs aimed to improve the wellbeing and safety of young people.
Along with colleagues, I am also involved in a range of activities to engage young people outside of school hours and during the holidays. It gives me a real buzz when they show enthusiasm and motivation and engage positively in the activities we offer. Some of these activities have been student-led as we understand that if students have a sense of ownership they can get more out of their involvement in activities. The summer holiday scheme is an example (see box below).
The SMART summer activities
Summer activities take place during the main holiday period, a time that can be both challenging and difficult for vulnerable young people.
This year SMART have chosen the vehicle of summer activities based on environmental and community sustainability as a way of staying in contact with some 40 children and young people from both primary and secondary schools within the CPR (Camborne, Pool, Redruth) area who we are already working with or who have been identified by schools as being likely to benefit from the scheme.
The scheme gives them a positive activity to engage in during the summer and ensures that multi-agency support is available if needed. The activities, which are planned and led by young people, will take place for three days a week for four weeks of the holiday and will incorporate a variety of workshops based around this theme of sustainability. Participants will be given the freedom, motivation and opportunity to express themselves and gain a real sense of achievement. They will also benefit the young people involved by improving social skills, encouraging team work, increasing emotional intelligence, confidence and motivation, and enable participants to gain knowledge and new skills in many aspects of sustainable living.
The program will culminate in a feast and showcase celebration of activities undertaken where friends, family and other representatives from the community will be invited. A previous event last summer was a huge success and brought together many different schools and communities. And, I must mention, the positive feedback SMART received from participants and their families was great.
No one day is the same but I do now have a diary! This was something new because as a patrol officer your day is dictated by radio communications sending you to all manner of incidents and situations. Needless to say, however, there is a large element of my day-to-day work currently which tends to be a bit reactive – it seems you can take the police officer out of the police but you can’t take the police… I guess it’s just the way I like to do things – it drives admin mad though!