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DIVERT custody programme set for delayed kick-off

A new project to cut reoffending rates which involves the community trusts of Lancashire’s professional football clubs is set to kick off in earnest as soon as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

DIVERT is a police custody intervention programme for young adults aged 18-25 who are being detained for violence-related offences.

Whilst in police custody suites, eligible young people are met by a trained coach from the community trusts of Accrington Stanley, AFC Fylde, Blackburn Rovers, Blackpool, Burnley, Fleetwood Town, Morecambe or Preston North End.

The initial meeting with a coach in a tracksuit of the local football club at a time of personal crisis can be the start of a journey towards turning their lifestyle around and desisting from crime.

The initiative (an adaptation of a similar, award-winning programme run by the Metropolitan Police) launched briefly last March before Covid-19 intervened, preventing the coaches accessing custody suites due to social distancing regulations. Custody based work continued when restrictions allowed and young people were supported remotely where appropriate.

DIVERT Lancashire has adapted to work with probation, health, youth justice and prison services in the interim, and the programme is set to relaunch in its original guise as soon as restrictions allow.

The programme was commissioned by the Lancashire Violence Reduction Network (a collaboration between criminal justice services, education, public health and service user groups) and funded by the Home Office.

“It’s based on the belief that every individual has their own ‘teachable moment’ when they are receptive to ideas to turn their lives around. Being held in custody is often one of those moments,” says David Clarke, Programme Manager of DIVERT Lancashire.

“That first conversation our coaches have with them is very gentle and empathetic. They outline what we do, how we can help them, ask a bit about what’s going on in their lives and what they want to change. It’s about making that initial connection and getting a commitment to pick up the conversation again after they’ve been released.

“A police station isn’t usually conducive to an uplifting dialogue, so we try to take the next contact with the coach into a community setting, ideally at the club’s community trust.”

The second meeting is far more in-depth and three-dimensional. It’s there that a personal action plan is devised, depending on the young person’s needs, issues and objectives. The whole initiative is trauma-informed, so the coaches recognise the impact past adverse experiences have had on the young people they’re supporting.

“Everything is based around the client,” says David. “We devise an action plan around what they want to do with their lives, how they are going to achieve it, and how often they want contact and support from us. We also do regular wellbeing assessments which helps us monitor progress and what is achievable for them.”

“For some, their lives are so chaotic that performing basic life tasks is an achievement. Others are in a position where we can start moving them towards education, training or employment opportunities. Whatever their circumstances, we’re delighted if we can help them move forward.”

The coaches are highly engaging and relatable to the clients they support. The club crest on their tracksuit has an innate ‘power’ which makes young people more willing to engage with them than they might with criminal justice agencies.

Each coach has a caseload of 12-15 young people. Their action plans are reviewed weekly or fortnightly and the beauty of the programme is that there’s no time pressure to progress each participant through the system. They can stay ‘on the books’ for as long as it takes to achieve the life goals they’ve set.

The link with the football clubs’ community trusts is essential, as the trusts have fantastic existing community, education and sport programmes, and great local links to support clients into external community projects and services.

Although it’s too early to report any hard outcomes from the programme (such as participants engaging in education or training), reoffending rates on the Metropolitan Police’s version of DIVERT have reduced by 19% in its first six years. Similar initiatives have begun in Thames Valley and South Yorkshire too.

“It’s a bit of an oxymoron because our service actually relies on the police arresting people,” says David. “We don’t want to see people in custody, obviously, but that’s where most of our work comes from and it’s often where young people are receptive to our engagement.

“Crucially, our partnership gives us direct access to young people across the county who are most at risk of becoming involved in violent crime, at a crucial point in their lives. We can provide that critical intervention that prevents them from heading any further down that road and divert them towards something far more positive.”

For more information about the DIVERT Lancashire custody programme click here.