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12 May 2022

Introducing Forward’s new Kent Young Persons Project

By Simon King
The Forward Trust has set up a new mental health service for young people due to leave a secure setting in the Kent and Medway area. This Mental Health Awareness Week, project Team Leader Simon King tells us why support like this is so important in helping reduce reoffending.

When I saw that The Forward Trust was advertising a new mental health support service for young people, I jumped at the chance to get involved.

The plan is to provide enhanced mental and emotional wellbeing support for 18–27 year olds in the Kent and Medway area who have been in a secure setting and are about to leave. The project will run from two prisons – HMPs Elmley and Rochester – with the overall aim of helping these young people reduce or end reoffending behaviours and attend services they might otherwise find difficult to access. This was made possible due to a grant we were awarded by the NHS Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).

Mental health support for young people has always been a subject that’s held great interest for me. Research on mental health among young adults in prison shows that 18-25 is a critical period in the development of mental health problems and aggressive anti-social behaviour. Furthermore, a study of nearly 50,000 prisoners underlined the link between treatable psychiatric disorders and reoffending, showing that the risk of reoffending increases with the number of diagnosed disorders.

Through my own working experience, I have seen first-hand the need for better mental health support for young people in the prison system. I have found that the vast majority of the people we work with in prisons have some form of mental health and/or emotional wellbeing concern. In some instances, I’ve truly felt individuals could have avoided prison if only they had been offered the right kind of support in the community. I have no doubt any person working in the prison establishment would agree.

Evidence from the 2009 Bradford Report and a later report on mental health in the criminal justice system by Revolving Doors supports this. It suggests that as many as 50% of people aged between 18-25 who have mental health and learning disabilities could have avoided prison if they had had proper access to services in the community or been earlier identified as having these issues.

“Despite significant progress, the needs of too many people in the criminal justice system with mental ill-health or learning disabilities are not properly identified. Too many end up in prison when they could have been safely diverted and cared for in the community. Too many others continue through the justice process without the care and support they need both in prison and after release.”

Revolving Doors, In Ten Years Time (2019)

As this is a new project, we are in the fortunate position to be able to shape and tailor the service specifically to the needs of the young people we’re supporting. Our team will deliver a range of interventions prior to release and in the community to support sustained engagement with a bespoke care plan package created with the client whilst they are in prison. Once released, our dedicated team will support each young person to achieve positive outcomes according to their individual mental and emotional wellbeing needs.

I feel very confident that with the team we are developing and the work we are producing we can achieve positive results for our clients. All of us have relevant skills, knowledge and expertise that we can utilise. We are all passionate about this project and, although we are only in the third month, we’ve taken it to our hearts.

Both HMP Elmley and HMP Rochester have been brilliant in helping us pilot the project. Meanwhile we’ve been developing strong working relationships with services from both the voluntary and public sector in the community. Everyone involved has agreed that there is a great need for this kind of service and we’re grateful for how forthcoming they have been in their support.

All of this makes me feel very hopeful for the young people we’re supporting and their futures. I am very optimistic about the project’s success, and each of us believes it will enable meaningful change.

Our Kent Young Persons Project is funded until 21 February 2023. We hope that with the success of the project we will receive further funding to expand our team and the development of a much-needed service.

The Forward Trust’s new Kent Young Persons Project is now live and receiving referrals. For further information please contact Simon King, Team Leader, by email: Simon.King@ForwardTrust.Org.Uk