5.2 Finding alternative pathways – influencing positive choices
Police have a crucial role to play when it comes to helping children and young people find alternative pathways. That said, this can only ever be done in conjunction with a broader range of social supports and interventions.
The problem in this regard is overcoming perceptions of what works and what doesn’t and ensuring to allocate sufficient resources. Traditionally, many approaches have focused on improving academic attainment under the assumption doing so will in turn lead to better outcomes for children and young people. Other approaches have tended to emphasise the need to increase the sanctions on children and young people for breaking the law or committing crimes. Yet the evidence to support either perspective is limited.
As Heller and colleagues assert:
Traditionally, social policy interventions for chidren have tried to improve outcomes by investing (often substantial) resources in improving the academic or vocational skills of young people or changing the long-term benefits or costs associated with crime or schooling, with impacts that have typically been quite limited. By comparison, the rate of return to investing in helping youth make better judgments and decisions in high-stakes moments seems promising.
Two programmes which focus on helping you make better judgements and decisions are Becoming a Man (BAM) and Working on Womanhood (WOW), both developed by the Chicago-based Youth Guidance.
Both programmes work on the basis of engaging youth through structured mentoring programmes involving role play and group exercises. A key focus is on enhancing impulse control, emotional self-regulation and personal responsibility. Although the exact mechanism is unclear, research undertaken by the University of Chicago has found significant positive outcomes of the BAM programme:
participation in the program reduced total arrests during the intervention period by 28–35%, reduced violent-crime arrests by 45–50%, improved school engagement, and in the first study where we have follow-up data, increased graduation rates by 12–19%. The third RCT tested a program with partially overlapping components carried out in the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (JTDC), which reduced readmission rates to the facility by 21%. These large behavioural responses combined with modest program costs imply benefit-cost ratios for these interventions from 5-to-1 up to 30-to-1 or more.
While the BAM and WOW programmes might focus on a particular segment of the youth population, more general interventions such as the Lifestyle programme run by Humberside Police for over 30 years can also have significant benefits for children, young people and police engagement.