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Support & Advice for Families of Offenders & Ex-Offenders

The Support and Advice for Families of Offenders and Ex-Offenders (SAFE) Project supports offenders, ex-offenders and their families. It has been running for just over three years now and is funded by the East Lancashire Primary Care Trust (PCT) which covers the three boroughs of Burnley, Hyndburn and Pendle with a total population of 382,000 residents. SAFE primarily looks at health and wellbeing outcomes, but we will assist with other issues that will help families or individuals move on. The support is provided by project co-ordinators alongside trained, CRB cleared, volunteers recruited from local communities. The aim is to help remove any barriers that may prevent families accessing health care. There is close collaboration with other agencies to help families develop confidence and self esteem.

SAFE is based on the assumption that improving parents’ everyday life will have a direct affect on the outcomes for their children. If parents are under less stress, their children will be happier and more likely to attend, and achieve better results at, school. This in turn will have positive benefits for both the schools and wider society.

How SAFE started

The SAFE Project evolved from the Family Days Project that we ran for three years, which was funded by the Home Office to work with offenders inside and outside prison. When that funding was no longer available, we approached other funders and started the SAFE Project which precludes work inside prison but carries out similar work outside prison. In addition to what we had learnt about the need for this work from the Family Days Project, we researched need when putting in the funding bids.


Anyone can refer families to SAFE. We receive referrals from Wymott Prison, Hindley Prison, Preston Prison, Children’s Centres, Schools, Burnley Youth Inclusion Project and the Carers’ Centre. Some self-refer as a result of seeing how the project has helped people they know. Involvement with SAFE is entirely voluntary: potential clients can say ‘no’. Families value the support from the SAFE Project in part precisely because it is optional. Having the choice is empowering for them. After referral, the Co-ordinator visits the family to carry out an initial assessment on the basis of what the referral has said and what the family wants. This assessment includes:

· carrying out a risk assessment;
· drawing up an action plan;
· getting consent for the data that SAFE will hold and making it clear that the client can have access to this data at any time;
· getting permission to liaise with other agencies;
· explaining how diary notes will be kept;
· going through the volunteer agreement to specify the role of the volunteer and be clear what they may or may not undertake;
· indicating that SAFE will monitor progress and how this is done.

Each family is assigned a volunteer. Usually s/he will have accompanied the Co-ordinator in the initial visit as this helps towards building the subsequent relationship. Sometimes contact lasts as little as six weeks, but there is no time limit. We have worked with some families for as much as 3 years. The main focus is on health and well-being outcomes but we try to adopt a holistic approach and help people with whatever problems they raise, ranging from food parcels, obtaining furniture, difficulties about schooling, housing problems and the need for resettlement.

How the project has developed

In addition to being responsive to the very different needs of different families, the project has developed to meet the Primary Care Trust (PCT) targets and we have tried to take account of the PCT’s evolving agenda, such as the SMYL initiative (Save a million years of life) and the Smoke Free Homes Initiative. During the course of the work we have also identified many ‘hidden’ carers within the families we are supporting. These might be parents with special needs children or people caring for other family members or young carers. We have now secured funding from Lancashire County Council to designate some of the part-time Co-ordinator’s time for work with carers.

Another recent development has been starting a coffee morning in a local church in Accrington with a group of families from Hyndburn. This led to some participants attending a health and well-being course put on by Accrington and Rossendale College. They, plus the volunteers and staff who attended, all gained a level 1 qualification in Health and Wellbeing. We have now got very good links with the College and in September, they will be running a level 1 community volunteering course open to the families and to our volunteers to get accreditation.


SAFE comes under the Blackburn Diocesan Board of Finance and the management structure of the social responsibility section. The lead officer for social responsibility manages the project and the team which comprises a full-time Team leader, the Co-ordinator who works 2½ days per week (10 hours funded by the PCT and 7 hours by Lancashire County Council) plus the team of trained CRB-cleared volunteers.

As Team Leader, I am responsible for the recruitment, training and management of volunteers. We are very often approached in September or October by students who are on health, social work or criminology-related courses. Other recruits come through Councils of Voluntary Service. Part of the skill of managing the volunteers is getting to know them in order to place them with families in the most appropriate and effective way. In 2010/2011, we had 32 enquiries from potential volunteers of whom 16 have been recruited, trained and CRB checked. In addition to the training we provide within SAFE, we encourage volunteers to access training offered by other agencies. We also take care to demonstrate how much we value the time, energy and commitment given by volunteers through getting them together for various events and we are planning a service in Blackburn Cathedral, followed by a cream tea and the giving of certificates.


The project is based in the Social Responsibility office within the Cathedral grounds. The accommodation charges were included in the bid to the PCT. The PCT funding covers the basic work with families. Meeting current commitments in relation to the carers required an additional grant from Lancashire County Council. We also secured a Small Sparks grant (through Help Direct, a support and information service in Lancashire) which covers the costs of running the coffee mornings in Accrington.

The PCT was impressed by the efficient running of the project as well as its effectiveness so that, having got further funding from the PCT, we are financially secure for 2 years from April 2011.
The recruitment and training of volunteers is an ongoing process, we have a steady stream of people wanting to volunteer for the project but it takes time to train, obtain CRB clearance and place volunteers with families. Volunteers are asked to commit at least 2 hours a week for a six month period. Some volunteers then move onto other things, which is a positive indication that they have developed and progressed through their experience with us. We would estimate the financial value of volunteer time as about £180 per week or £9,000 per year.

Non-financial help and support

We are able to draw on management support from the diocese in various ways: the DBF oversees the finances, the Board of Education helps in relation to CRB checks and the Child Protection Office can give advice and support when necessary.

Links with other projects or organisations

Our work with families requires considerable collaboration with partner agencies: receiving and making referrals and through working together with particular families, for example, as part of the Common Assessment Framework process in which a multi-disciplinary team of practitioners form a ‘team around a child’ (TAC) to support a child, young person or family.


The PCT targets for SAFE concern the number of referrals and the number of volunteers. We send quarterly monitoring reports to the PCT. However, in working with families, SAFE uses the Outcomes Star adapted to the PCT well-being target. The Outcomes Star is a tool for supporting and measuring change when working with vulnerable people with the following ‘points’ of the Star:

· Motivation and taking responsibility;
· Self-care and living skills;
· Managing money;
· Social relationships and networks;
· Drug and alcohol misuse;
· Physical health;
· Emotional health and well-being;
· Meaningful use of time;
· Managing tenancy and accommodation;
· Offending.

These headings are broken down to be specific to the family and monitored at the beginning of the relationship, part way through and at the end.

For the year April 2010 to March 2011, the SAFE Project supported 22 families: 27 adults and 42 children. Examples of what we achieved with the families include:

· support in seeking advice on drug and alcohol issues; in completing benefits forms; in registering with a GP; in attending hospital appointments; in meetings in schools.

· supporting offenders through the court process; in attending Family Court Hearings.

· referrals for smoking cessation, to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, Children’s Centres, for family therapy, to Carers’ Projects; to the Community Mental Health Team.

· signposting families for housing advice resulting in re-housing or repairs to property; information and support to Hyndburn families about jobs available at the large new Tesco store that opened in Accrington.

· arranging holidays; visits to pantomimes; distribution of food parcels, Christmas presents and household items.

· encouraging families to access training, education and employment and successfully getting some parents onto training courses including Level 1 health and wellbeing; cooking; personal development; basic maths and English; IT.

· SAFE Co-ordinators have been the lead professionals with 3 families in the Common Assessment Framework process.

All of these strands of activity are designed to:

· promote their self confidence and enhance families’ ability to find their own solutions to their problems.
· encourage families to access health and well-being service and join in activities and groups and reduce their isolation.
· enable better parenting.
· promote community cohesion through using locally recruited volunteer visitors.

Key success factors

As already mentioned, the non-compulsory nature of the relationship is significant for the families, but the key characteristic of SAFE is that it offers practical and emotional support that is individually tailored to fit the diverse needs of the families concerned.


The main barriers have been time and funding and because there is not enough of either it is difficult to find the time to promote the project as well as doing all the work with the families and the volunteers. The fact that there is never long term funding is an ongoing issue as is finding the time to write lengthy funding bids on top of all my other work.

It has been evident recently that some of the projects or organisations to which we might have referred people in the past have either closed or been scaled down.

Challenges and opportunities

The main challenge is to find further funding to continue the work of the SAFE Project and help as many people/families as possible.

There are two ways in which the project might expand if the funding was there. First, we could work within prisons. Secondly, even remaining with our current focus, the potential would be there to move beyond East Lancashire to other areas within the Blackburn Diocese.

Nicola Carroll

Case Study

Mrs B lives with her grown up son. She referred herself to the SAFE project after seeing how much it had helped her sister. Mrs B has severe learning difficulties and mental health problems. Married for 20 years, her husband had been asking her to sign forms for loans and other HP agreements, which she had done because she trusted him. She was also in serious debt with household bills and rent arrears and she did not disclose that her husband was living with her. As a result she was charged with benefit fraud and given a 30 weeks sentence suspended for 24 months and 12 months probation supervision.

What the SAFE Project was able to do for Mrs B:

· weekly visits from the Co-ordinator and additional support from two volunteers;
· arrange for her to be assessed to have a carer which resulted in her having twice daily visits from a carer;
· accompany her to a barrister who gave free legal advice and worked with the Co-ordinator to complete the paperwork for her to be declared bankrupt;
· support her through the court process;
· wrote to agencies to which she owed money to explain how the situation was to be resolved;
· applied for Disability Living Allowance – successfully after an appeal;
· contacted the Community Mental health Team when Mrs B had thoughts of suicide;
· supported her in attending hospital for incontinence;
· enabled her to attend a coffee morning which led to her attending various courses and getting a Level 1 qualification in health and wellbeing;
· helped get repairs carried out to her property by the RSL;
· helped her to get furniture and other household items.

When we first met Mrs B, she was very quiet and depressed and failing to take care of herself, partly because she had insufficient clothes and was also very overweight. She is now quite different: confident and chatty and debt free. Now under a dietician and walking daily, she has lost some weight and is taking a pride in her appearance.