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'Transforming Lives' is the programme designed to help vulnerable young people to improve life skills and to equip them with the knowledge and the aptitude to recognise and manage risks that surround them.
"We formed the Transforming Lives programme in 2016, our work was commissioned by Huntingdonshire Community Safety Partnership. A group of professionals from the local council, early help team, police and housing providers all wanted to do more to divert young people away from recognisable danger towards much brighter and more optimistic out comes.
We knew in many cases our professional hunches were often correct and we saw with alarming accuracy young people follow a negative influence into a life of crime, abuse or drugs."
Paul Rogerson is a trustee of the Cambs Youth Panel and he is the head of the delivery programme for Transforming Lives across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. He has spent a considerable amount of time examining prevention strategies to help young people avoid the kind of problems that result in them becoming criminalised, physically hurt, or rejected by mainstream education.
"The problem was we worked in a 'risk and refer' culture" he says "This means that we assess a child or young person and pass the information on to an agency we hope can help to intervene or mitigate the likelihood of a negative consequence. While this is fine in principle it also often means that the system wouldn't respond unless the child or young person was already quite entrenched in chronic risk taking behaviours.
We began to work to what was (at that time) a newly developed framework, recognising that young people’s diversionary needs could be seen through three lenses. The three lenses are: 1) Universal Risk 2) Emerging Risk and 3) High Risk. We noted that we focused our best professionals on the highest risk tier, which often left little capacity for tackling emerging needs."
The Transforming Lives project is led by a forward thinking local authority supported by Neighbourhood Policing, local housing providers, schools and Early Help teams. Together we are able to pull together a comprehensive programme.
"'Transforming Lives' was our plan divert young people much earlier than we had ever before, looking down family lines and work with young people from the age of 10. We would work with schools to identify young people from specific households and offer a fun, engaging programme to help raise aspirations, learn about good choices and positive achievement. As the scheme evolved we specialised some cohorts to tackle Child Sexual Exploitation, risk taking behaviour and gang culture.
I Listened to a 13 year old girl give her own account: "I said no” [to sex with an adult male] because “I didn’t know I could refuse before taking part in Transforming Lives". Hearing this nearly knocked me off my seat."
Things as simple as a trip to see the 'Lion King' in London, cooking diner with the local PCSO and talking their feelings through with an adult was a really big deal. Each agency contributed time in kind, and budgets were focused on team building activities and modest rewards. This has been presented as simple youth engagement combined with professional judgement.
Results can be varied and some young people drop out. There are no quick fixes and nothing offers 100% success. However, in general, a day off school once a week for twelve weeks and some fairly minor rewards proved sufficient to keep most young people engaged. Overall Transforming Lives has been able to offer very good improvements in terms of personal confidence and self esteem.
"Our current schemes are now being set up in post viral pandemic world. They still include a mentor relationship with a community champion and because of the way we are funded, we are not focused achieving binary or numerical outcomes. Working with funds from the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) Fund our Police and Crime Commissioner and National Lottery 'Big Lottery' grants we have focused on improving chances by investing our time in young people and setting them up with personal skills, community links and broader horizons."
Fast forward to 2020 and Transforming Lives has just completed our 7th cohort having expanded across Huntingdon (where we began) to St Neots, St Ives and most recently into Cambridge City and South Cambs. The shift to the virtual environment has been a crucial consequence of the COVID-19 situation.
"Once the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic hit, we predicted accurately that two things would happen: First of all we would not be able to meet with young people in quite the same way. Secondly, our target audience of young people would be last in line for diversion and support. We are also now keenly aware that COVID-19 has definitely hit the poorest and the most vulnerable harder than any other group. What has followed has been amazing, we have redirected funds and utilised the Cambs Youth Panel who had (at the outbreak of Covid 19) fund-raised and given their charitable reserves to provide free laptops to help young people to get connected online.
Our partnership has allowed us to not only supply our target audience with Chromebooks, Windows laptops and Raspberry Pi devices, but set up a stream-lined eight week diversionary programme that we deliver virtually. Our current programme is delivering 4 cohorts across Cambridge City, Huntingdonshire, East and South Cambs."
At time of writing a live application for further funding is impending which could allow us to run twelve more cohorts. The next aspiration is ambitious and aims to go further much further again. As Paul explains:
"We have an opportunity to partner with “Triple P” a nationally renowned online parenting support scheme. If our bid is successful we plan to deliver 'whole family' support to households across our entire county."
[Paul Rogerson is an Inspector with Cambridgeshire Constabulary, at the time of writing is engaged in the delivery of the police response to COVID-19 across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough.]
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