Sandwell Youth offending Service’s (YOS) Artsmark Journey started in 2017/18 following a piece of consultation work that explored the issues around dis-proportionality and engagement challenges of the service with young people who are involved in the Criminal Justice System. There were some tough messages for the service arising from the consultation work which included that some young people felt that the time they spent with the service was uninspiring and lacking relevance to their lives. Young people also felt that the service did not take sufficient time to get to know them.
During the time of the consultation, staff were undertaking training around Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) and Speech and Language/Communication difficulties. Young people involved in our service are currently or have previously experienced some level of trauma, which arguably is exacerbated by not having found ways to express themselves. Services have not perhaps been set-up in a way that gives them a creative but safe space to share their experiences or explore their identities.
The YOS wanted to take the young people’s feedback seriously and considered methods of responding to the messages they had given us. We decided that the arts might be a sufficiently flexible and diverse method for engagement that would give young people the creative space they seemed to want, and help us to offer an approach that they would see as more attractive and relevant. Once we decided on this path, the range of potential benefits seemed to grow and some early testing of drama based sessions showed a perhaps unexpected willingness of young people to engage.
We decided that as opposed to one off arts projects or activities, we would take a more strategic approach to becoming a more creative service and started our journey of embedding the arts into our practice across everything we do. We aimed to develop and deliver an arts offer that has such breadth that it is part of the day to day fabric of how we approach things.
Using the Artsmark journey as a mechanism to achieve this provided a benchmark of standards and ideas, that seemed to align with our aspirations for young people. We weren’t aware of many other Youth Offending Services using arts in this way, so we were unable to model others good practice and made it our intention to contribute to the evidence base by developing a relationship with Dr Laura Caulfield and the Institute for Community Research and Development at Wolverhampton University.
Our starting point was to identify members of staff that already had arts related skills or staff who would have a passion to drive our Artsmark journey. Our offer to young people began by using these existing skill sets within the team, particularly a member of staff who has experience within TIE and Drama. A small group of young people were formed to create a drama piece based on County Lines, this was performed by the young people in front of staff. The success of this provided the platform to build on, as it demonstrated that young people would be willing to engage in alternative interventions and try something out of their comfort zones.
We have engaged our partners via our Youth Offending Management Board, resulting in our Strategic Youth Justice Plan for the borough in both 17/18 and 18/19 containing the development of the ‘Creative YOS’ concept as a key priority. We were also successful in gaining some funding from the Youth Justice Board to support this concept as part of the approach to tackle Serious Youth Violence.
We have continued to build our use of the arts, offering a range of diverse activities for young people, either as one-off programmes of work or sessions that form part of their intervention plan. We have continued to consult with young people to ensure that the sessions are wanted and relevant to them. A key part of what we have wanted to achieve is to expose young people to career ideas that they might not otherwise have considered, and so we have provided experiences under a ‘creative careers’ week, which included taster sessions in pottery, photography, graffiti, furniture upcycling and film making. Wherever possible we have tried to utilise local artists to help connect the young people to the community.
Additional to the sessions we are now offering the opportunity for young people to achieve an Arts Award up to Bronze level. For our young people this is sometimes the only accreditation that they have achieved, having not always got on well in mainstream education.
During the summer we delivered our first Summer Arts College in which 8 young people attended Mon-Fri, 6hrs per day for 3 weeks. This resulted in the young people creating and performing a live multimedia media performance at Smethwick Police Station with an accompanying short film.
Partners and strategic Managers have expressed how impressed they have been with what we have achieved so far, helping with the partnership buy in to the concept.
To support our journey, our service is beginning to build a network of organisations and artists within the industry, this is to ensure that we are offering the best programmes for young people and being aware of opportunities for young people to participate in once they leave our service. We are a regular attendee at Sandwell Cultural Education Partnerships meetings and were guest speakers at the National Criminal Justice Arts Alliance Conference 2019.
Even though our journey is relatively new there have been visible changes within those young people who have taken part in arts related activities. However such changes can be difficult to capture and evidence, therefore we have commissioned Wolverhampton University to academically evaluate or Artsmark journey in order to strengthen and support our plans to fully embed the arts into our service. We await their initial report and look forward to continuing that relationship and contributing to the evidence base of the use of arts with young people in the criminal justice system.
Chad Smith, ISS Case Manager