Youth offending and the rise of ‘Outward Bound’

While evaluating the referral stage of Youth Advantage Outreach (YAO) recently one of the images from a phone interview that stuck in my head was of a policeman falling off a badly made raft into a river while ‘young offenders’ looked on and laughed. In my imagination they are laughing with and not at this poor hapless copper, who in my imagination is wearing one of those round topped police helmets, well at least he was … until the fall and the river. I can see him looking rueful before also joining in the laughter and then my imagination fades away.

I suspect the reason this image has stuck with me is because it was described by one of the referrers/chaperones as something important they thought YAO gave the young people who attend. That is, seeing people of authority, like the police or their teachers mucking in just like them, proving that they are human beings too, not just people to lie to or avoid or in some cases be fearful of or despised.

YAO might be the only course that offers the outward bound experience in the form of living army life for a week, something that arguably has its own appeal to some young people who might see themselves joining some aspect of the armed forces when they are older, but other courses are available across Scotland for those young people not sold on the idea of guns and tanks.

Venture Scotland and Venture Trust both offer a similar outward bound experience with a focus on helping young people with complex lives to increase their confidence and resilience by experiencing outdoor activities, where they’ll learn new skills, and how to work as a team and trust other people.  Young people often find a real love for the outdoors or go on to volunteer or look for training and employment in a similar field.  If too much walking isn’t appealing you can even experience similar courses on a boat!

When it comes to working with young people, setting goals and boundaries, having open dialogue and engaging with them in a fun way is key. These are all ways in which the majority of young people go on to successfully pass into adulthood, but for those young people who are drifting away from schools and positive peer groups and beginning to find their behaviour is bringing them to the attention of the police and the criminal justice system, extra steps such as these interventions can have a massive impact on the direction their life is taking.

The main difference between YAO and most of the other alternatives is the length of time the course lasts. YAO is a short, sharp intervention lasting just under a week with the young people living in barracks, whereas other outward bound courses tend to last several months building up to an overnight trip in the wilderness. The other difference is the one I alluded to above, that the professionals who refer the young people are often brought in as chaperones and are expected to take part…in everything!

In terms of outcomes for young people participating in these types of courses or interventions, the research is very limited for a number of reasons, mainly due to small numbers, but also because often reducing offending isn’t the primary focus of the courses. No one is able to state with any accuracy that attending an outward bound style course will have a statistical, measurable effect on offending or antisocial behaviour figures, at least not yet. However, what they can offer is the tools and experiences that might lead to greater desistence.  Greater inclusion, individual and social development and experiences they might never have had the opportunity to have. Even if it is just seeing a policeman fall in a muddy river!

More about Youth Advantage Outreach

Youth Advantage Outreach is a collaborative venture by the Army in Scotland and Police Scotland. The purpose is to provide an adventurous and challenging course using Army experience which is targeted at youth who have come to the attention of police as a result of offending or risk-taking behaviour. Several five-day residential courses are offered each year, in different locations in Scotland for mixed-sex groups of up to 40 young people aged 14 to 17.

Download the evaluation of the referral stage of the project.

About our blogger

Kristina Moodie has extensive experience of working in mental health and criminal justice research. Read more.

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