Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice
COMMENDEE 2011-12: Kate is commended for her excellent contribution over 10 years as a passionate, dedicated and highly respected volunteer with County Durham Youth Offending Service.
[Kathleen Fenwick gives her account of the work for which she was awarded a Commendation]
I am a Community Panel Volunteer for YOS (Youth Offending Service) in County Durham, whereby I participate in securing a robust RO (Referral order) contract in order to reduce re-offending. I strive to be sensitive and empathic to the offender, their family and victims.
County Durham YOS is committed to delivering a high standard of service and good level of practice delivery working with young people up to the age of 18yrs who are or have been involved in criminal behaviour. The RO was introduced in 2002 and it afforded the said young people with an opportunity to ‘put right their wrongs’, by introducing a voluntary Community Panel to draw up a contract which is personal and relevant to the individual and becomes a legal binding document when signed. It allows the panel members to support the young person with interventions which are set to reduce offending behaviour and aid the young person ‘to move forward’ taking into account the victims’ views and wishes with an emphasis on community or direct reparation. Although the RO was introduced by the Government its format and innovative contents is completed by the volunteers whose aim it is to build a feeling of self-worth and antipathy for the offender without condoning their criminal activity.
I was accepted on the initial intensive training programme 10yrs ago and I continue to be committed to the project in a proactive manner. Throughout my service I have, along with other panel members, attended many initial panel meetings and been instrumental in transforming a young person’s life. The contract has to capture the essence of the young person’s offending behaviour and allow the SO (Supervising Officer’s) who are paid, professional members of staff within the YOS, to allow for creativity and a sense of worth, mixed with some contrition or justice for the victim of the young person’s criminal behaviour.
The more panels and contracts I completed, the more I believed in the positive work being carried out by YOS. However, I not naïve enough to believe that every young person on a RO will complete the order successfully, but I do believe that the intervention provided is a great opportunity ‘to plant seeds’, and I am very proud to be part of the volunteer process.
A main element of the RO it is to try and engage the victim of the crime to attend the initial panel meeting in order to allow them, within a supervised arena, to speak to the young person and ask questions which are important to them, such as – ‘Why me’? – ‘What have I done for you to do this to me’? Although the young person may feel uncomfortable with this, it has proved to be a valuable part of reparation and has often had a remarkable impact on the future of the young person as it can indicate the distress caused to others’ by their behaviour.
It can obviously be stressful for the victim to attend such meetings as they will not be sure of the young person’s actions / reactions and it is imperative that the panel chairperson takes control over any given situation and ensures that everyone’s feelings are taken into account and that they pose an atmosphere of calm to the proceedings thus enabling a satisfactory outcome for all concerned
Such has been the success of Restorative Justice (RJ) in community reparation work, it has recently expanded beyond RO and now every victim is contacted regardless of the pre court outcome / sentence, with the offer of an opportunity for them to have an input into the work undertaken by the young person.
I firmly believe that if a young person and their family are supported in a positive manner the likelihood of them re-offending will be reduced considerably. This in turn leading to wider public benefits and therefore less victims of crime.
Following the introduction of a young person’s evaluation form, which I initiated on behalf of CDYOS, we have received feedback which indicates that young people’s overall experience of their RO has been a positive one.
[The following article appeared in issue 4 of the Butler Trust’s magazine, Inspire]
Kathleen Fenwick has been commended for her ten years as a passionate, dedicated and highly respected volunteer for County Durham Youth Offending Service. She was one of the first to join the programme, in 2002, and has since dedicated an enormous amount of her free time to supporting some of the most vulnerable young people in the region.
‘I became involved through my employment,’ she says. ‘I was working with families and young people affected by drugs and alcohol, and I worked very closely with the youth offending team, which was in an office right next to where I was based. I started doing some joint work with them, and when they began the restorative justice and youth panels they said, “would you be interested?”’
She immediately embarked on an in-depth training programme to become a qualified member of the service’s community referral order panels. After leaving her day job, she attends the panels from 4.30pm until 7pm, and will often step in at very short notice rather than see a panel cancelled. Colleagues estimate that she’s probably been a member of around 4,000. Is that an accurate figure?
‘It probably is,’ she laughs. ‘I’ve never counted them, but they do panels four times a week and I just put my name down when I’m available to go. Sometimes I do two or three in a week, or sometimes it will be one in three weeks.’
It’s a phenomenal level of dedication – what’s sustained her over all that time? Is it seeing the difference she could make in people’s lives? ‘I really believe in the referral order, and helping to draw up a plan over the period of the order,’ she says. ‘And it does appear to work – the fact that we have the opportunity to speak face to face and have a look at their background and examine why they’re in that situation. I just think it’s a really worthwhile thing to do.’
Has it ever had a negative effect on her life, given the amount of free time she’s had to sacrifice? ‘No, I’m very good at time management, and I live on my own so I don’t have those commitments where I have to be back at a certain time.’ The service has around 70 volunteers, and colleagues praise Kathleen’s non-judgemental and positive attitude and her integrity. They also single out her excellent diplomacy skills and ability to diffuse anxieties in tense situations, such as when a victim is present – often a very highly charged and emotional experience for all concerned.
‘The panels can create such a dynamic mix of welfare versus justice, and proportionality versus attitude, that it can be difficult to get it right every time,’ says area manager of County Durham Youth Offending Service, Dave Summers. ‘But Kate has a very good success rate, due to perseverance, good negotiation techniques and an excellent attitude.’
‘I think it’s just about trying to see where they come from, and trying to acknowledge that we’re not there to be a judge,’ she says. ‘It’s about making them feel that we’re there for them. I just see it as what most people would do – to try to make people feel comfortable.’ She firmly believes that if a young person and their family are properly supported it can dramatically reduce the likelihood of reoffending, and she’s had excellent feedback from the young people themselves. ‘We devised a simple evaluation form, which was about hearing in their own words how they thought the process had been – a lot of the comments are very positive,’ she says.
Her commitment to her peers is also second to none, and she regularly organises social evenings for the volunteers, as well as bringing issues that need to be addressed to the service’s steering group. Her dedication has also extended as far as taking campaigns on young people’s issues to the House of Commons, the most recent of which is to try to persuade the government to consider the impact of long-term ongoing penalties in addition to those imposed by the courts.
‘In the referral order, particularly, the overall thing is that at the end of the order period they’re given a spent conviction,’ she says. ‘It’s trying to let the young people see that they’ve got the opportunity to put things right. But one of the things that doesn’t end at the end of the term is if they’ve had a driving offence. The offence might be finished in terms of the referral, but there are massive repercussions for them in terms of having to look for insurance and so on. it’s expensive enough for young people to get car insurance, and it’s this feeling that if they can’t get insurance and they want to drive, they’ll be tempted to. That then has repercussions on us as members of public on the roads.’
It’s a subject she feels passionate about, she says. ‘I just feel quite strongly that there should be some way that it could be looked at, if the referral orders are really about giving young people a second chance. Perhaps something similar to the way you can go on a course if you’ve been caught speeding.’ What’s been the response so far? ‘It’s still on the agenda, but like so many things it takes a lot of time,’ she says.
Despite the amount of time and commitment, she has no plans to give it all up just yet, she states. ‘I’m quite happy doing this, working with young people. I’ll do it for as long as I’m able, and for as long as they think I’m doing a good job.’
For more information: contact CountyDurham Youth Offending Team