A new Nottinghamshire scheme is using ‘reachable moments’ to support young offenders and put them on the right path after they come through the custodial process.
The Divert Plus project aims to have an impact while a young person is in police custody or within 24 hours of their release – a crucial time when they may be more open to accepting help and support from others.
The project will provide new teams in the Mansfield and Nottingham Custody Suites to complement existing custody work delivered through the NHS Liaison and Diversion Team, offering mental health support to young people.
Divert Plus works with young people between 10 and 17 that have been arrested for committing a wide range of offences including involvement with illegal substances, weapon possession, inappropriate sexual behaviour and violence to others.
It is funded though the Home Office’s Youth Endowment Fund, which was successfully granted after a bid by the Violence Reduction Unit and City and County Council.
Participation with the project is voluntary, however it is offered to all young people who independently offend.
If they decide to engage with the programme, they are provided with speech and language and well-being assessments.
These support them and allow access to a tailored prevention intervention, which may also include signposting to specialist services such as child and adolescent mental health services and substance misuse services.
Sonia Burton, project manager for Divert Plus, said: “Many children and young people have undiagnosed difficulties which impact the way they communicate and react to situations.
“Having the opportunity to reach children and young people when they are first arrested and placed in police custody enables us to screen them for their emotional well-being and any speech and language difficulties.
“This allows us to provide the right level of tailored support and intervention, preventing them from entering and or escalating in the criminal justice system.”
Twenty-nine young people are part of the Divert Plus pilot scheme – which started in May 2022.
Divert Plus works closely with the speech and language therapy service to ensure young offenders have the essential services needed to fully understand the judicial process and the consequences of their actions.
This is because key findings from a previous Nottingham City and Nottinghamshire County Youth Justice Service speech and language pilot for children on the Health and Justice Pathway showed that 82% of young people referred to Youth Justice Speech and language therapy had difficulties understanding information.
Similarly, 54% referred to speech and language therapy were also known to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services – meaning they may have poor social communication skills which can make them more vulnerable to gang involvement and exploitation.
One recent young person’s assessment identified he was unable to tell the time or know the months of the year.
In another case, the assessment identified he already had a diagnosis of autism but was provided with very limited support and was struggling in mainstream education.
Another assessment found one young person needed additional specialist speech and language assessments and tailored support intervention so that he could be prevented from permanent exclusion.
All these young people were provided access to a specialist speech and language therapist based in the Divert Plus team.
The information they receive from this is then shared with them, their parent carers, their education providers and any other professionals seeking to engage and support them to allow continued support.
Commissioner Henry said: “The work Divert Plus is doing already shows just how important it is to support young offenders.
“Being taken to custody for the first time can be a daunting and anxious experience, especially for the younger people in our community.
“Having services such a Divert Plus support them through the process and help them understand the decisions they have made to get there will go a long way with preventing repeat offending.”
The Violence Reduction Unit also secured additional Youth Endowment funding, which in total amounts to £1,052,000, and will support delivery of the project until March 2024.
During a recent visit to Nottingham Custody Suite, where Divert Plus are based, Commissioner Henry was able to show the High Sheriff Paul Southby the amazing work they carry out.
A tour was also given of the brand-new, award-winning custody suite to show the initiative work being done in Nottinghamshire.
Chief Inspector Emma Spencer, Head of Custody for Nottinghamshire Police, said: “The work of Divert Plus is an integral part of the work that we do across Nottinghamshire Police with our partners to work with our communities to drive down crime and divert young people away from offending.”
The Police and Crime Commissioner for Nottinghamshire is responsible for commissioning services around the county to support the objectives of the Make Notts Safe plan.
These include responding efficiently and effectively to local need, preventing crime and supporting victims and survivors.
Divert Plus is just one of the committed services across Nottinghamshire funded by the PCC to help deliver these key principles to keep our county safe.