PROJECTS AND PRACTICE

SHINE for Kids ‘Stand as One’ mentoring program: The role of mentoring in supporting the transition from a juvenile justice centre to the community

TANYA MACFIE, STAND AS ONE PROGRAM COORDINATOR
JOEL ROBERT MCGREGOR, STAND AS ONE PROGRAM MENTOR AND ASSOCIATE LECTURER IN CRIMINOLOGY AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NEWCASTLE

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Highlighting the structure of the SHINE for Kids ‘Stand as One’ mentoring program, this article explores the role of mentoring in supporting young people who are transitioning from a juvenile justice centre into to the community. The ‘Stand as One’ program matches a young person in custody with a mentor to foster a caring, non-judgemental relationship so that when the young person needs advice, support and assistance, they have a neutral person[1] to turn to. Young people (mentees) between 16 and 21 years are accepted into the program three to six months prior to their release date. The program’s mentors, aged 21 or over, have been assessed by the mentoring coordinator as being mature and aware of the responsibility the role carries.

The need for mentoring of young people

The importance of protective factors in recidivist juvenile offenders is well known, see, for example, White (2015). Reducing a young person’s likelihood of reoffending, requires not only meeting their individual needs, but also developing family relationships, positive social group activities and community engagement. To enhance the young person’s protective factors, the mentor and mentee develop a relationship prior to release and continue this throughout their transition period by engaging in activities that might include attending supporting events, undertaking outdoor activities, or just having a meal together.

Mentees who are preparing to leave custody have reported that they feel pessimistic about their ability to integrate back into the community without resorting to criminal activity to survive. While the majority of young people exiting custody undertake case planning where they are provided with ongoing assistance, a number of the young men in this program have disclosed that they are fearful of being discharged from custody. They have in the past experienced barriers and access to basic needs such as accommodation, employment, Centrelink benefits – all of which is compounded by the stigma of being a labelled a criminal. This means that while they have been promised ongoing assistance with accessing housing, tertiary and/or vocational education, support with job-seeking skills and employment, emotional/psychological support, budgeting and financial counseling, it may not be delivered. This can be for reasons ranging from an organisation not following through with support, to the young person not having a trusting relationship with the organisation and/or worker. Having a mentor, however, can build the bridge between the young person and wider services by holding those services accountable, or being with the young person while they attend the organisation. As one mentee, a 17-year-old Indigenous male said[2]:

I left Baxter with seven case workers from different services and they promised they’d help me get housing and a job … I have been out for seven months now. They’ve all brushed me and I’m still homeless … My SHINE mentor is the only one still around.

While this young person has been able to maintain his life in the community with little organisational support, many young people find this distressing and return to custody. For some young people, custody is seen as a safe place where support is offered, as another 17-year-old male said:

They promised they’d get me somewhere to live and help sort out my Centrelink, but they didn’t … I had nowhere to live ’cos my Dad’s girlfriend wouldn’t let me live with them … I caught up with my mates on Christmas Eve, got fully baked and out of control, punchin’ on with some dude so I’d get arrested and go back inside … It’s not that bad there, I get food and a room and I know all the workers and boys.

The origins of the ‘Stand as One’ mentoring program

The need for a supportive relationship in young people’s lives, a relationship that is independent of both family and formal organisations, was identified by SHINE for Kids in 2010 at a meeting with the management of NSW Department of Juvenile Justice to discuss the concept of a mentoring program for young people in custody. Initial support in the form of a small grant allowed us to further explore identified gaps in service provision for incarcerated youth. The program began at Frank Baxter Juvenile Justice Centre (NSW), where management were extremely supportive of the concept and welcomed SHINE for Kids’ commitment to working collaboratively with the centre to turn young lives around and provide them with much-needed support when released.[3]

Further development in 2010 allowed us to employ a youth worker and to begin working with a small number of young people in custody and then continue to support them as they transitioned back into the community. The success of this pilot program was quickly recognised, and in 2011 SHINE for Kids expanded the ‘Stand as One’ mentoring program at Frank Baxter. The expansion allowed the program to train additional volunteer mentors to work with young people who were preparing to exit custody and reintegrate into the community.

Since the beginning of the program, the aim of the ‘Stand as One’ program has been to support the young people so they may define their own particular needs and achieve their own goals alongside the justice system and other welfare departments’ mandated goals. The program works from a strengths-based approach and towards reducing recidivism for young offenders. The mentor works with the mentee to promote positive life choices and enable their potential. The program’s key objectives are to:

  • reduce the likelihood of young people returning to youth justice or entering the adult prison system;
  • improve the young person’s resiliency factors through modelling and encouraging the young person to develop and build positive self-esteem and pro-social thoughts and behaviour patterns;
  • empower young people to draw on and utilise their own individual skills and strengths to enable them to reach their potential;
  • develop a supportive, caring and non-judgemental relationship through fortnightly mentoring meetings/activities for up to 12 months in order to enhance existing communication skills, interpersonal skills and trust;
  • provide the young person with a mentor who is focused on the young person’s wellbeing; and
  • work collaboratively with young people to help them plan and achieve their goals. The mentor does this by providing their mentee with guidance, advice, pro-social options, support and encouragement.
Matching mentor and mentee

The correct matching of mentor to mentee is crucial to foster the strong bond and relationships between the parties. To achieve this, the ‘Stand as One’ program coordinator undertakes a comprehensive assessment of both mentor and mentee before the match is made. The young person’s suitability for the program is identified by the juvenile justice caseworker or psychologist, but it is ultimately the young person’s decision to participate. The eligibility for the program is confirmed by the Stand as One program coordinator through an initial intake interview. The young person must agree to participate honestly and openly in an assessment undertaken by the program coordinator to determine what assistance can be provided. They must also be willing to participate in the program at least three months prior to their release and a minimum of nine months after release.

The prospective mentor will be at least 21 years of age, able to show the program coordinator that they are mature, understand the value of the role and can commit to the responsibility of the role. This is done through a case-by-case screening assessment for attitudes and motivation. The mentor must be willing to participate in initial and ongoing training.

Once a mentee and mentor have been accepted into the program, the program coordinator begins identifying a potential mentor–mentee relationship through the matching process. Matching is based on information gathered on both the mentee and mentor from the time each entered the program. The program coordinator considers:

  • personal interests
  • communication style and personality
  • attitude and temperament
  • location of the community mentees will be returning to upon release from custody
  • whether mentors have access to their own car or public transport
  • mentee family dynamics
  • mentor family dynamics
  • any unique needs of the young person such as their cultural background, special talents, hobbies, interests etc.

The screening, assessment and matching process of both mentor and mentee has proved a successful model for this program. It ensures that people are genuinely interested in the program, an interest that is not merely self-gratifying.

What the mentees say about the program

What I like about my mentor is he always comes to visit me when he says he’s going to … that’s a big thing when a lot of people have let you down before … My brother always promises to come and see me, but he never does. (Mentee, 20)

If I’m stressing out and having a bad day and my mentor comes to see me, I always leave feeling heaps better. (Mentee, 18)

We can talk about stuff that I can’t talk to boys in here about – like relationship stuff and how bad I feel about letting my family down again. (Mentee, 17)

I made a pact with mentor and psych that I wouldn’t self-harm for a week …. I haven’t self-harmed for 32 days now … not sayin’ that I won’t again but I don’t want to disappoint her. (Mentee, 19)

He helped me do my resumé and get a job … I couldn’t do it by myself ’cos I’m no good at spelling and all that. (Mentee, 19)

What the mentors say about the program

I feel useful again. It was really nice to hear my young bloke tell me excitedly that he used the techniques we tried in a job interview role play and actually credit that coaching, if you can call it that, to him getting the job. (Mentor, 52, male)

He has come a long way. I hope he thinks he is doing well because he is doing really well in my opinion … He has a job; he’s saving some money; he’s got a girlfriend who he wants to make proud, and a sense a confidence that I hadn’t seen until recently. (Mentor, 32, male)

Although the journey hasn’t always been easy, I reckon I’ve learnt as much from him as he has from me … I really enjoy spending time with my mentee, whether we’re nutting out one of life’s problems or chatting about cars, I always seem to learn something new. (Mentor, 48, male)

He told me the other day that he is so happy he can talk to me about things he can’t talk to his mates about … He said he thinks I’m like a really nice aunty that gives good advice … I had to laugh when he said, “I actually trust you now, I tested you in the beginning … you probably didn’t know but I did”. (Mentor, 25, female)

With the support of positive relationships, young people from the juvenile justice system have the potential to become active participants and contributors to the community. The ‘Stand as One’ mentoring model ensures that young people receive support beyond the confines of the institutions, the family and formal organisations. Without fear of retribution, the mentors’ pro-social, non-judgemental support is vital to these young people in achieving their potential.

Reference

White, R. 2015, ‘Juvenile justice and youth vulnerabilities’, in Interrogating conceptions of “vulnerable youth” in theory, policy and practice, ed. K. Gorur, Sense Publishers, Rotterdam.

Authors

Tanya Macfie is Program Coordinator of Stand as One, and Joel Robert McGregor is  a program mentor. He is also Associate Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Newcastle.

[1]  Young people in the program use the term “neutral person” to define their mentor as they are outside of the mandated case worker and Juvenile Justice staff.

[2]  All quotes within this article have been used with permission.

[3]  SHINE for Kids has a number of programs which operate to support young people and their families who are affected by the criminal justice system.