Guest blog from SHiFT

SHiFT works with children and young people up to the age of 25 who are caught in cycles of harm, in circumstances we know can set people on course for conflict with the law, and where, although many services are trying to help, they're not making a difference and the situation is getting worse. The children and young people SHiFT work with have complex and unresolved needs and face challenging circumstances. Many are looked after by the state or are care leavers, and many are being criminally or sexually exploited, including through county lines. Most have been excluded from school, repeatedly go missing, have experienced, or witnessed, domestic abuse or have other forms of traumatic experience or insecure attachments, and have ongoing substance support and mental health needs.

Building on the Government's Levelling Up commitments and the Department for Education's SAFE Taskforces and work to increase pupil attendance, SHiFT has a determined focus to improve educational experiences and outcomes for all young people. Too often schools and learning are underemphasised in work to keep the most vulnerable children safe and support them to thrive.

We know, from The Child Safeguarding Review Panel and beyond, that exclusion from school is a major risk factor for subsequent exploitation and conflict with the law. Schools do not always have the right resources, expertise, or frameworks for getting alongside their most vulnerable children and working intensively and systemically with them. SHiFT wants to change that and is starting to make a difference.

This is Banquo Jr's story.

Banquo Jr is a 14-year-old Black boy who lives alone with his mother, Grace. Grace has brought him up on her own since he was small. Banquo has never met his father. Banquo has had convictions for three separate knife crime incidents within four months, all occurring when he was 13 years old. An incident where he was arrested in school uniform wielding a machete led to him receiving a 12-month Youth Rehabilitation Order and being excluded from his mainstream school.

When Banquo started working with his Guide, Holly, professionals believed that he was at high risk of receiving a custodial sentence. He was gaining a reputation for being a habitual knife carrier, associating with older gang connected males, and engaging in damaging behaviour in the community with links to organised crime in surrounding counties. Banquo's mum, Grace, felt that she had lost control of her son and feared that he would be killed.

Getting to know Banquo has been a joy for his guide Holly. Banquo is an engaging and lively boy. When quiet, he could be perceived as sullen, but taking the time and giving him space to express himself results in an animated and articulate child, often presenting with a warm and welcoming smile. Banquo is relatively large for his age and therefore could easily be seen as being 16 or 17.

Banquo's experience of the education system has been mixed. There is a lot of past information that shows Banquo's significant academic potential, and there is no evidence of any learning difficulties, beyond the impact of exclusions, on his opportunity to progress.

From early contact with Banquo, Holly identified his ability to reflect and be insightful about what he perceives as 'the mistakes' he has made in the past. Banquo said no one had ever asked him before why he thought those things had happened. In Holly's early contact with other professionals who were working with Banquo, she was met with a plethora of negative stories, including the likelihood that he would 'kill or be killed', which was sometimes said in Banquo's presence. Holly purposefully focused on the need to shift this narrative and to help other professionals in Banquo's life to join with her, Banquo, and Grace to put in place a plan that ensured his success.

Holly spent intensive time with Banquo and his mother, together and separately in numerous settings, including at home, in the park, and alongside him in the classroom. Through this, Holly learnt that Banquo had a passion for football, alongside his academic ambition to get a full suite of GCSEs - an aspiration he could not pursue within the alterative provision school he attended because of his exclusion.

Holly believed that with the right support, Banquo could achieve his educational aspirations and she was determined to help him back into mainstream education to enable this. She canvassed the Education Panel with a tenacity that Banquo has described as 'magic'. She set challenges for Banquo, stretching him with extra homework, which she used at the Panel alongside the evidence she collated about Banquo's positive behaviour since July 2021, and the letter she supported Banquo to write for himself directly to the Panel. She worked closely alongside Grace, attending meetings with her to ensure her voice was heard.

Holly also delivered on her promise to Banquo to find a suitable local football team that he could join. Chatting to and from these sessions became a fantastic opportunity to talk through Banquo's day, work through challenges, and revisit plans. Although there were many difficult moments throughout this time, Banquo's contact with the gang in which he was involved dissipated fast - they were not able to deliver what he now had - new passions, in learning and football, bolstered by someone who really believes in him. Banquo carried knives partly because of the 'thrill'. 'So where do you get your thrills from now?', Banquo was asked. 'Football', Banquo answered.

Banquo's request to return to mainstream school was received positively. He has just finished his first term back in mainstream school where he is studying for 8 GCSEs and is a member of the school football team. Holly visits him in school weekly to talk through any issues he is having and to touch base with school staff and nip any emerging concerns or needs in the bud. The six-week review meeting has just been held and the school praised Banquo highly for how he has settled in. Banquo has fully achieved his targets of 'being safe' and 'being respectful' and has only minor improvements to make in punctuality to lessons to fully achieve his target of 'being ready for learning'. Banquo was also praised for being proactive in asking for help to meet his academic needs: he has approached the Maths department to ask for some additional support and this will now be actioned by the school.

When Holly started working with Banquo five services were involved in his life. He is now being supported only by Holly, the Youth Offending Service, and his Charlton Athletics Mentor. On the strength of Holly's work with Banquo, social care support has been stepped down - Banquo was being assessed as a Child In Need but colleagues concluded there was no role for them because SHiFT and the Youth Offending Service were fulfilling those needs. The intensity of support from the Youth Offending Service has also decreased, initially to twice a week and now to once a week, some of which are virtual meetings or calls, because of Banquo's progress.

Banquo's work with Holly is helping him to feel more empowered to advocate for his rights as a child and communicate through official processes to challenge authority status quo. He has gained confidence from this that, with the right support and attitude, he can achieve anything. Most importantly, this work between Banquo and Holly is helping him to reset the foundations of his life and feel that he is not defined by his mistakes and can build a better and positive future.

Author: Commission on Young Lives - Oasis UK
Date: 05/05/2022
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