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The 'resilience factor'

Studies reveal that building resilience reduces crime. Persistent offenders in the Falkirk area of Scotland are benefitting from resilience training.

Resilience reduces crime

A study carried out for the Prince's Trust by Dr Gwyneth Boswell in the 1990s discovered that of 200 children and young people jailed for 'serious and grave crimes', more than 90% had suffered significantly from grief, loss or abuse.

A subsequent study by the Youth Justice Trust into children committing street crime in Manchester in 2002 revealed that a significantly high proportion of young offenders had undergone major life crises, yet little account was taken of this when it came to addressing their offending behaviour. 

When young offenders in greater Manchester were compared with those of Kirklees, in West Yorkshire, a very similar pattern was found. A total of 147 cases were selected at random and assessed for:
  • Death of a parent or significant adult
  • Family separation where at least one parent is no longer in contact
  • Outright rejection of the child by parents, including neglect
  • Continual change of residence
  • Loss of parent due to serious mental or physical illness
It was found that 46% of young offenders aged 10 to 17 had at least two of these factors present in their lives, while 92% had suffered one or more forms of rejection.

A resilience-building project

The Freagarroch Project (freagarroch is a Celtic word meaning 'answering need') works exclusively with persistent offenders in the Falkirk area of Scotland. An evaluation of the project by the University of Lancaster discovered that, once again, more than 90% of the young offenders had experienced loss or rejection within their family. The factors taken into account by the researchers included:
  • Death of a parent or carer
  • Rejection by one or both parents, or carer, including neglect
  • Divorce or sepatation of parents
  • Significant loss of status in family due to step-family arrangements
  • Continual change of residence
  • Loss of parent due to serious mental or physical illness
The disruption, adversity and unhappiness overshadowing their family relationships had had an impact on their values, attitudes, personalities and social skills. They also had a tendency towards high dependency on drugs and alcohol. Aggression and an inability to express their emotions were common. Project workers saw their main task as being: to help the young person come to terms with the reality of a chronically dysfunctional family experience and with the feelings of sorrow, regret and loss this entailed.

In working with these young people, the keys to success were seen by workers as:
  • Improving family relationships - involving the family wherever possible and providing families with support and reassurance about how to care and set boundaries
  • Providing a 'micro-community of care'
  • Engagement - helping the young person define the agenda and work within it
  • The style of the worker was crucial - acceptance, empathy and non-possessive warmth were important aspects of successful change
  • Refusal to give up was seen as the magic ingredient that made the project distinctive
  • Creating an environment of safety, comfort and nurture - the young people stressed the importance of food and comfort


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