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MIFTA CHOUDHURY (Southwark Youth Offending Team)

MIFTA CHOUDHURY (Southwark Youth Offending Team)

Mifta Choudhury

COMMENDEE 2018-19: Mifta is the founder of the peer-mentoring charity ‘Youth Ink’. He is Commended for his work, in partnership with Southwark Youth Offending Service, assisting children and young people in and around the justice system to develop their potential and lead more fulfilled lives.

Initial Nominator and Southwark Youth Offending Service (YOS) Officer Julian Wild says Mifta ‘has made a huge positive difference to the lives of young people within the Youth Justice system in Southwark’ through the charity, Youth Ink, that Mifta established ‘to work alongside young people who had been in conflict with the law to assist them develop more constructive lifestyles.’

Mifta has identified and worked with a group of ex-service users known as ‘peer navigators’ (PNs), explains Julian, who ‘encourage YOS young men to open up more about their feelings, paralleling society figures e.g. footballers talking about abuse and Stormzy discussing depression, as helpful methods to address difficult emotions such as fear and stress. Without Mifta’s dedication, skill and motivation, these aims would not have been achieved.’

These PNs, Julian adds, ‘were previously high-risk offenders who had been involved with serious youth violence, were not in education or employment and had challenging family backgrounds; Mifta’s personality and openness gained trust and led the PNs to attend the YOS daily from morning to evening, showing their intense desire to improve their skills.’

Local Butler Trust Champion and Head of Southwark YOS, Andrew Hillas, says that the PNs ‘develop deep trusting relationships with young people that YOS staff are themselves unable to achieve. The PNs have enabled their peers to discuss the traumas that they have experienced, which has resulted in referrals being made to children’s mental health services that would otherwise not have occurred.’ He adds that:

‘Mifta has worked tirelessly to make this project a success. He has spent long periods developing trust with the Peer Navigator group (many of whom have themselves experienced very traumatic backgrounds and may have committed serious offences in the past). This has not been a quick or easy achievement.’

Some of those referred for mentoring have been so impressed by the project that they have asked if they, too, can become PNs, and the model, reports Andrew, ‘has been identified by Southwark Community Safety Department as being effective; Mifta is now transferring this model of intervention by working with young local adult volunteers who have not been in conflict with the law to also become PNs.’

Andrew adds that Mifta ‘stands out from these peers by his ability to comprehend, and work towards, the goals of the YOS. He thus realises that to obtain funding to undertake projects, he needs to adapt his approach to the requirements of the funding agency’. He says Mifta ‘has huge amounts of patience, and has a calm approach that is welcomed and helpful at a fast-moving inner city YOS!’

Describing Mifta’s ‘natural rapport’, Andrew adds that he has ‘an excellent ability to be clear about his expectations and boundaries’ and gives as an example that ‘he expects (and obtains!) strict punctuality from them.’ Furthermore, ‘his style of challenging support has been highly effective. None of his PNs have re-offended, demonstrating his ability to assist them to develop and maintain crime free lifestyles, characterised by their developing pro-social attitudes and views.’

In a detailed testimonial offered by a colleague in the service, one gets a clearer sense both of the complexity and challenges of the lives of Youth Ink’s service users, but also the impact of Mifta’s model:

‘I referred Craig* to the peer navigator service to give him an opportunity to meet with other young people who had shared similar experiences, think about his options and reflect on different ways to manage his emotions. A meeting was held with Mifta and a plan was made for Craig to undertake the peer navigator training. Through Mifta’s intervention, Craig learnt about the effects of trauma, and developed positive self-identity through assisting on group work programmes at the YOS. Craig was initially shy and quiet. However, with Mifta’s support and encouragement, he became a positively different person. Mifta enabled Craig to share his personal experiences and gave support as a positive role model from a similar background.’

Since then Craig has avoided offending for over a year and has learnt a way to succeed free from crime – and he recently obtained an apprenticeship entirely by his own efforts.

Several young people who know Mifta offered feedback and testimonials. One said ‘he helped a lot in my personal and work life, a good role model’, while another added, ‘he understands me, always makes sure that I am alright, actually cares about me.’ One young person said Mifta ‘boosted my confidence and my motivation’ and another said, ‘He never gave up on me, even through difficult times.’

Southwark YOS Assistant Director Jenny Brennan offers some further insights into the depth of Mifta’s work. She wrote that:

‘Mifta is highly successful in his engagement with young people and I have seen how he can teach them the ‘pro-social’ skills they often lack and the ability to speak up confidently. This nomination celebrates his direct practice, but it is also important to acknowledge the background work that Mifta has done to set up the infrastructure and support network that is so important to a grassroots, user-led organisation. Mifta stands out by his ability to do the face to face work but also the bid writing and networking that is crucial to create a safe, trusted organisation.’

The last word goes to Craig, who captures in his words quite how profound an impact this kind of work can be:

‘I would be in jail now without Mifta’s support, he helped me realise that I’m better than I thought.’

* Service user’s names have been anonymised.

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