One of the most obvious impacts of having liberty curtailed is that it generates a sense of low self-worth and motivation. This is something we have all been experiencing of late and the covid-19 blues is a very real and difficult mindset to get over, even when you have supportive family and familiar surroundings. Maybe then we can empathise just a little with those who may have had their liberty restricted as a punishment. I am not suggesting that the punishment, or at least the consequences of breaking the law, is not deserved or, in a lot of cases, needed, or that lockdown is akin to being in prison. But when we understand an element of the experience, maybe we develop a clearer sense of the negative impact it can have and, importantly, how to start to address it.
That is why we have been so committed at Apex to focus on the mental strengths and personal aspirations of the people we work with and not on the negative aspects of their behaviour or past. In fact, the first element of our methodology is called Aim Higher because we recognise that so many of those we work with have been demotivated by upbringing, stifled by environment and cowed by the justice system which responds to the almost inevitable push back. It is certainly no coincidence that those institutions which deal with young people who have broken the law are disproportionately full of individuals with high levels of adverse childhood experiences including school exclusion, care experience and abuse. That the very system which is put in place to respond to youth offending invariably superimposes further harmful effects onto an already damaged life is perhaps one of the more difficult things to justify if we actually take the time to think it through.
I always remember the CEO of a big employer saying to me that these days he hired on the basis of attitude rather than skills or training. I can give training and develop skills, he said, but I cannot work with someone whose attitude is not right. I get that. No matter how much we put into up-skilling or retraining, if we do not start with how someone feels about themself, we are unlikely to see much progress because they will not believe that anything better is possible.
I keep hearing the phrase Build Back Better when talking about coming out of the covid-19 restrictions, and of course we should not miss every chance to try and make things better than before, but to do so requires a vision of what “better” can be and how we might get there. That is the first thing we work with our service users on: raising aspirations coupled with, in recent months, getting out of the lockdown lethargy. Maybe we are all going to need some of that over the next wee while?