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Animated Edition - Autumn 2006
What can dance do for young people who offend?
Graham Robb, secondary school Headteacher and member of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales offers us an insight and some practical information on how we in dance can contribute positively to the lives of young people who offend
I have seen some remarkable examples of the power of dance in working with young people who offend. I bring to mind a dance workshop at a Young Offenders Institution near Wakefield where young men performed a most moving dance located on a field of battle to the music of Gorecki - around themes of conflict, comradeship, loss, trust and loyalty. I first saw this at the Youth Justice Convention two years ago - but it had lost none of its power when I saw it again in June at a dance event in East London. What strikes one is the emotional learning which the young men are experiencing and the impact which this on them, on other trainees and on staff who worked with them. This article will reflect something of what the Youth Justice Board is trying to achieve with young people who offend, explore the learning taking place, identify some ways in which dance groups can get access to work with such young people and specifically how Dance groups can work with the Youth Justice system.

So what do we know about young offenders?
At the moment there are about 3,000 young people (up to age 18) in the secure estate (Young Offender Institutions, Secure Training Centres and Local Authority Secure Children Homes). But the Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) in the communities are working with about 25,0000 young people. The youth justice system is working to prevent young people offending and if they offend reduce the chance of re offending. This is a process of learning, often painful for both the young people and their families.
Young people who come into contact with the youth justice systems take part in an assessment exercise (ASSET). From this we can draw a partial picture of young people who offend:
  • Three-quarters are considered impulsive - they do not think of consequences of their actions
  • 20% are vulnerable to harm because of the behaviour of others, events, circumstances
  • 9% are at risk of self-harm or suicide (15% for females)
  • 30% live with both parents
  • 25% have special education needs identified
  • 15% have been formally excluded from school; 41% are truanting, 42% are underachieving at school.
This tells me that much effort needs to go into building the learning skills of young people to prevent them becoming involved in crime and anti social behaviour.

One fascinating new test being used at a YOT in Bristol showed me that the ability of many young people who offend to understand grammar is significantly below their chronological age. So for example a 17 year old may be operating, in terms of their understanding of language construction, at the age of a 6 or 7 year old. The importance of this is then how can we enable young people to comply with court orders if they cannot understand the instructions of those in authority.

Now let us celebrate the exciting revolution going on in schools about understanding styles of learning, the importance of emotional literacy and the personalisation of the curriculum - but these developments just illuminate quite how far we have to go to meet the needs of many young people who offend.

So what does dance development have to offer young people who may offend?
Let me go back to the film of the dance at Wakefield. What learning was taking place?
  • Reading other people and their emotions
  • Identifying possible consequences
  • Reading oneself - recognise emotions, putting names to it, accepting it and understanding how to deal with it
  • Communication skills by word and body language, by look, gesture, posture and movement
  • Building trust both physically and emotionally
  • An evident desire to cooperate.
So with this evident richness obvious to a non specialist why are we not overwhelmed by groups wanting dance work to be undertaken with young people who are vulnerable to becoming offenders? I think this is where the dance profession has a job to do. You have developed a complex and sophisticated vocabulary of dance - but you have now to find ways to help those of us who are not specialists to relate to this language:
  • To see how it relates to the objectives of the institutions in which we work (schools, young offender institutions, youth services or voluntary groups)
  • To understand the processes which you go through in working in dance to achieve these outcomes
  • To understand how the learning from a time constrained dance activity can be more widely developed and sustained.
So how can dance groups work with schools?
There is very rapid change taking place in the education system in England - I am going to pick five themes that may help build opportunities for dance organisations:

1. Understanding and using the language of Every Child Matters: Change for Children, the government's new approach to the well-being of children and young people from birth to age 19. This is a common language across Children's services and dance has a role to play in helping achieve the five outcomes (see the website reference below)
2. Understanding the motivators. School inspections are changing, so any activity that can reflect positively within the School Evaluation Form will be welcomed. Some schools also have Learning Support Units (LSUs) for young people struggling to thrive within mainstream classrooms. LSUs often look for innovative ways to develop the social learning of young people
3. Partnerships with schools. In the next two or three years partnerships will become more significant as commissioners of services for excluded children and providing alternative education including Pupil Referral Units
4. The very significant development of Extended schools - providing much wider range of learning and other services outside the normal school day
5. In this very rapid skim of some educational developments, there is also the development of social and emotional aspects of learning in primary schools, and social emotional and behavioural skills in secondary schools. This is a really important chance to build skills and understanding in new ways.

The Teachernet website will give more details on these themes.

So how could dance relate to the Youth Justice System?
Well here again are some key developments that might provide opportunities for dance groups. Bear in mind that there are some 156 YOTs in England and Wales, all managed locally and responding to local priorities - but within that there are some common strands of work - I will only pick out three. The Youth Justice Board website will give more detail.

1. Positive Activities for Young People (PAYP) programmes
These programmes run in out of school sessions with the aims of:
  • Providing young people with opportunities for personal development, encourage self-discipline, self-respect and self-confidence, and enable them to communicate more effectively with a range of people and work effectively in a team
  • Ensure that children are supported as they move from primary to secondary education
  • Provide access to quality arts, sports and cultural activities, and allow those with an interest and/or talent in any area to continue after their involvement in the programme
  • Bring together young people from different geographical and ethnic communities to help break down prejudice and misunderstanding.
2. Youth Inclusion Programmes
The Youth Inclusion Programme (YIP) core group are the 13 to 16-year-olds who are engaged in crime or identified as being most at risk of offending, truancy, or social exclusion. These young people are identified through a multi-agency consultation process, drawing on input from the Youth Offending Team, police, social services, local education authorities or schools, other local agencies and the community. Individual YIPs also work with a wider group of at-risk young people.

The objective of the Youth Inclusion Programme is to reduce youth crime in the targeted neighbourhoods. To do this, each YIP has the following targets:
  • To ensure that at least 75% of the core group (the 50 most at-risk young people) are engaged, and that those engaged receive, on average, at least five hours of appropriate interventions per week
  • To reduce arrest rates among the core group by 70%, compared with the 12 months before their engagement
  • To ensure that 90% of those in the engaged core group are in suitable full-time education or employment.
3. Youth Offending Team Prevention Funds
These have been allocated now for three years of development. YOTs are finding that their new funds release other Local Authority funding to enable imaginative and innovative local developments.

The message is that there are opportunities for dance professionals to work with the youth justice system. The YJB website gives more details.

There are significant opportunities for dance specialists to work with young people who offend or who are vulnerable. This is not easy work - some of the most troubled and damaged children in our society are not quickly going to change a complex set of behaviours. There are also some complex organisational issues to recognise - especially in the institutions supporting the most challenging young people.

But the prize is one we would all value - a chance through dance to give vulnerable young people the skills to be individuals at ease with themselves families, friends and their community.

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Animated: Autumn 2006