Defusing Skills for Young People In Youth Justice Settings
Defusing skills are vital for everyone to challenge antisocial behaviour and manage conflict without situations escalating into confrontation or violence. Young people, especially those who are excluded or in the youth justice system would benefit from defusing resolution skills, but many struggle to learn or apply the skills due to speech, language and communication needs (SLCN). An estimated 60% to 90% of young people in the youth justice system have SLCN.
Dfuse, with the support of The Communication Trust, developed a programme specifically for young people in youth justice settings which focuses on the skills, which are essential for effective defusing, that young people with SLCN typically struggle with.
This programme was first tested with a group of five boys in a Secure Training Centre and aimed to increase their ability to communicate effectively and to deal with challenge and conflict without violence.
The programme was delivered in one hour sessions, twice a week over three weeks by a Dfuse Hostage Negotiator and a Speech and Language Therapist. They used images, videos, activities and group discussions to explore conflict and defusing techniques. Worksheets were provided so that Case Workers could review progress and their understanding in-between the sessions.
In the two months prior to the training four of the boys were involved in a total of thirteen incidents. In the two months after the training only one boy was involved in two incidents.
The results were positive. The evaluation focused on the impression the programme made on the young people’s perception of conflict, their willingness to manage conflict and ability to communicate. The training was well received by the boys and had an impact on their attitudes and behaviours. Overall they thought the sessions were ‘not a waste of time’, ‘enjoyable’ and that ‘they learnt a lot’. After the training participants were able to recall the content of the course in discussion with staff and they could identify both escalating and de-escalating behaviours in both theoretical and their own real-life personal conflict situations.
Most notably, and of benefit to the Secure Training Centre, staff recorded a reduction in the number of violent or aggressive incidents involving the participants. In the two months prior to the training four of the boys were involved in a total of thirteen incidents. In the two months after the training only one boy was involved in two incidents.
Case and Key Workers identified benefits for all participants. Speaking about one boy a Case Worker said “Since the training he has remained mature in his attitude towards others and has demonstrated different techniques of dealing with conflict, for example he successfully mediated with another young person.”
One boy stated in his Case Worker review that he feels he is able to make better and informed choices when he returns to the community. His motivation to change his behaviour and attitude was noticed by the staff and his Youth Offending Team. His family also commented that he appears to be more confident in his own ability to manage situations.
A short programme alone cannot irreversibly roll back a lifetime of managing conflict through aggression. However this programme has laid the foundations for setting staff to continue progress towards replacing aggressive and violent responses with calm, measured and defusing approaches to conflict. One worker, speaking a few weeks after the training, said “I have been able to discuss conflict with him openly due to his improved understanding.”
The programme also provided tools to help workers debrief conflict incidents as and when they occur. These can be used to re-enforce positive behaviours when young people effectively defuse a situation, or to explore the attitudes and behaviours which led a situation to escalate into aggression. Additional tools were also provided to highlight, to all staff in the setting, what the participants were learning and how they too can re-enforce positive behaviours.
Since this pilot, thanks to the Jackson and Woodward Foundations, Dfuse has been able to extend this programme into other youth justice settings. Dfuse also partnered with the British Red Cross to reach young refugees and unaccompanied minors and with Hounslow Pathways, supported by Hounslow Borough Council, to work with young care leavers.
Dfuse has noticed that some young people never consider an alternative to becoming aggressive when faced with challenge or conflict – many of these have previously been sent on anger management courses. We believe that our neutral and non-judgemental approach provides a supportive environment for young people to reflect on how they respond to conflict and the consequences of their actions. Once the young people have identified that they would like to avoid conflict escalating the programme can provide the tips, tools and techniques to help them defuse, rather than escalate challenging situations.
Dfuse has developed a toolkit Defusing Conflict for the programme so that Youth Workers, Case Workers, Teachers and Speech Language Therapists can use the programme in their settings with any young people who have challenging behaviours or lifestyles. The toolkit provides background information so little or no defusing experience is needed to deliver this programme. It also provides all activities and tools, including eight short films, to facilitate an eight session programme to help young people explore their responses to conflict.