PBNI set up the Aspire Young men’s Project in September 2017 in response to recommendations in The Fresh Start Agreement of November 2015. The aim of the project was to develop a collaborative initiative between Government departments and Restorative Justice Partners focusing on young men at risk of becoming involved or further involved in criminal behavior.
Since that time, PBNI, NIACRO, Ascert, Barnardos Parenting Services, Alternatives and CRJI have been providing an intensive wraparound support service, working with marginalized young men aged 16-30, who present with significant risk, a history of substance misuse, experienced trauma and are under threat. These young men frequently live chaotic lives, having trouble in accessing suitable accommodation, mental health services due to dual diagnosis and achieving any stability and within their local communities.
ASCERT has incorporated a specific mental health and addictions therapeutic support service from the established Regional Rapid Response Addiction Service which will have dedicated resources to support clients from the ASPIRE project in relation to mental health issues, addiction issues and where there is dual diagnosis (combined mental health and addiction problems). This is delivered using a team of skilled practitioners and therapists across a range of disciplines suitable for addiction and mental health interventions in an integrated support model that can support their needs using a collaborative approach with PBNI and the service user.
ASCERT provides a wraparound service to ensure that ASPIRE clients across PBNI offices in Northern Ireland are fully supported and will help clients understand the underlying causes of their use of substances, mental health problems and strategies to lessen and manage their substance use more effectively while addressing previous traumas and mental health issues and can help clients understand the underlying causes of their substance misuse and their reactions/behaviours to events in their lives and environments, past and present.
All workers will have a clear understanding of dual diagnoses and the support required for ASPIRE’s clients. This service is dedicated to breaking the cycle of trauma, emotional pain which can often be seemingly kept by bay through substance abuse fuelled by recurring offending behaviour and leading further isolation. For many of these clients this cycle is often an inherited one. Therefore addressing issues through a systemic lens is often beneficial to produce a sustainable positive outcome. The service aims to be flexible and adapts itself to meets the needs of each client at the stage they are currently at in order to help them avail of further longer term support services they would not have previously been stable enough to access.
Niacro and its restorative justice partners Alternatives and CRJI have been delivering Aspire across Northern Ireland since September 2017. The 16-week programme supports clients with NIHE, benefits, GP, medication on release as well signposting to other Niacro services such as Base2, Famm (money management programme), Advice Team and Working Well, as well as to addictions and mental health services.
Aspire Mentoring Services caseload is made up of referrals from the Aspire Probation team and offers one-to-one support to clients in addition to the help the receive from their probation support team. Aspire Community Engagement is the non-statutory strand of the programme and also works with 16–30-year-olds not subject to statutory supervision. The Community Engagement team is made up of staff from Niacro, Alternatives and CRJI. The mentors in this team source their caseload from within the community.
Despite the pandemic, Niacro and its partners have continued to deliver the Aspire services even throughout the lockdown restrictions. The concern for the mentors at the beginning of the Covid-19 crisis was that many of the young men would not be able to access the service. But through dedication on the part of staff, the service continued successfully throughout the year recording thousands of contacts and interventions.
The key to the programme’s success was sharing information amongst the team as support services developed new ways of providing services remotely. The proactive and flexible nature of the team allowed mentors to adapt quickly in the new environment and ensure that clients were being supported. The close working partnership with the Aspire Probation Team and other probation officers played a vital role.
Aspire Mentoring Services senior practitioner William Armstrong praised staff for meeting the clients’ needs in incredibly challenging circumstances, he added: “Aspire has had to adapt and improvise during the past 12 months due to Covid-19. Many services and support organisations who provided face to face support have had to change the way the deliver their service. The Aspire teams rose to the challenge and continued to help clients access their benefits, accommodation and addictions services.”
Aspire Community Engagement mentor Hannah McKnight said that lockdown has inevitably made building relationships more difficult, but this skill is at the heart of the service, she added: “Lockdown has taken away one of the main roles of our job – meeting with clients in person. Working face to face with service users is important in building and maintaining a trusting, professional relationship.
“Although I can continue doing the practical part of the job from home, being remote creates a barrier to building those relationships. Having said that we have been in constant telephone contact with clients.”
Not only has Niacro and its partners continued to deliver Aspire services they have also piloted a new programme strand. Niacro has started an innovative service which involves referring clients from Aspire Community Engagement and Aspire Mentoring Services to our partners, Alternatives and CRJI.
These referrals serve as a follow-on service for clients who feel they would benefit from a restorative justice intervention. Referrals are identified from clients who are more settled in the community having benefited from the practical and emotional support provided by their Niacro mentors.
The process begins with a tripartite discussion with the client, Niacro mentor and restorative partner.
A suitable restorative programme is then tailored to the client’s needs. The referral begins during the last few weeks of the client’s engagement with Niacro so that the mentor can continue to offer support to the client as they begin their new restorative programme.
As expected, the roll out of the Aspire Restorative project has been incredibly challenging because of lockdown restrictions.
While the programme continues to be rolled out, there is some very positive service user feedback. One client, who was referred to the Alternatives from Aspire Community Engagement, said he was initially reluctant to take part in any restorative work, but he was happy that he did. He added: “I have to admit I was stubborn and I felt I was being picked on. But now that I have done the programme with Alternatives, I realise my actions have consequences and that I have to take responsibility for my behaviour.”
He also spoke about how the work has helped his relationship with his mother. He said: “Alternatives has helped me see how my own actions are affecting my relationship with my mum. The restorative work I have been doing won’t fix all the problems we have but I’m optimistic it will help.”
Should you require any further information in relation to the Aspire project or wish
to make a referral please email admin.Aspire@probation-ni.gov.uk.