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BY STEVEN GECHIE, Side Step Intervention Service Co-ordinator

Action for Children’s Side Step Intervention Service is an integral part of the Whole Systems Approach in Glasgow – diverting young people away from serious and organised crime.

Social and economic disadvantage is a strong determinant of poorer outcomes for individuals and communities as a whole – serious and organised crime disproportionately affects those who are more vulnerable within these communities, for instance, to exploitation into organised criminal activity such as drug running.

Our multi-agency partnership intervention services was set up to divert young people away from this lifestyle by providing opportunity and peer support that has, in many, if not all cases, been lacking in their past.

It is our experience that this support can be the difference between continuing and escalating along the criminal justice pathway or taking a side step onto a more positive pathway that will lead to a better life and more positive citizenship. 

Changed people really do change people – Many of the young people we support go on to become Peer Mentors themselves.  The statistics below speak for themselves.

Over 2019 – 2020:

  • We worked with 79 new referrals and continued support of 23 young people referred in 18/19.
  • Delivered a mix of individual as well as group work activity with an engagement rate of 94%.
  • 86% of young people engaged with the service have reduced their offending.

2019 – 2020 has been a busy year featuring:

  • A fundraising triathlon with young people raising over £2500 for their service.

  • Inclusion of our young people in our recruitment of volunteers to acknowledge their ability and right to shape their own service.

  • Supporting young people to the Solheim Cup – the pinnacle of Women’s Golf, as part of Action for Children’s role as the charity partner for the event.

  • Delivery of a school programme with 11 pupils identified as being at high risk of criminal exploitation from Govan High School. This 12 week course focussed on community issues, offending, inclusion, peer relations, practical life skills and positive destinations. We had input from Police Scotland, Fire & Rescue service, British Red Cross as well as 3 key volunteers one of which was able to deliver a workshop based on his life experience of drug dealing and imprisonment.

  • Using a grant received from the National Lottery Community Fund to enhance our Cognitive Behaviour Programme to include a module on healthy relationships. This module focusses on consent and what that looks like both in casual and long term relationships. A vital component is the content about what behaviours to expect in a relationship and what may be forms of manipulation or coercive control. We have delivered this to a group of 8 care experienced young people, a demographic known to be targeted for exploitation. A focus on sexual health, nutrition and confidence led to all 8 young people achieving their SVQ Wellbeing Award.
  • One of our Peer Mentors taking on an advisory role with local government – aiming to use his personal experiences to assist with decision making regarding policies relating to young people in the Criminal Justice System.

  • One of our practitioners receiving the Inspirational Young Woman Award at Action for Children’s 20th annual Women of Influence event.

  • Being awarded the Young Persons Project of the Year in the 16-24 year old category at the Herald Society Award in October 2019.

  • Winning an Excellence Award at the European Social Network Awards in Brussels in December 2019. This was voted for by our peers on the evening. On both evenings we were up against very strong competition who would have been worthy winners themselves.

Midway through March 2020 our service was impacted like every other by the outbreak of Covid-19. We have supported 27 families with financial aid through our AFC emergency fund during lockdown. This fund was used to support families with household bills and was gratefully received by all.

We supported a further 7 families similarly through the money we received from the Scottish Wellbeing Fund as well as providing mobile phones, laptops and games consoles to 4 households to help them with boredom and communication during lockdown. One family in particular were struggling with phone calls being their only method of communication while the young person was in secure care. By providing a laptop we were able to support them to video call and hopefully ease this issue for them.

The rise in household demands during lockdown has also led us to get a new tumble dryer for a family, a new bed for another and a new fridge freezer for a third. This totals over £5000 of practical support to families across Side Step during this time.

As I said 2019 – 2020 was a busy year but we had some great results.  Seeing young people turn their lives around in the way that they do, knowing the adversity and lack of opportunity that has blighted their past, keeps me inspired to keep on keeping on.

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