An innovative and successful community contribution to reducing sex offending
Circles build safer communities through local volunteers working with sex offenders to minimise alienation, support reintegration and so prevent sexual reoffending
The Lucy Faithfull Foundation (LFF) is one of the original Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) pilot projects funded by the Home Office. We started our first Circles in 2002, and together with the Hampshire and Thames Valley Circles Project helped to pioneer and establish CoSA in the UK.
Since 2002 LFF has set up and maintained 45 Circles. The majority of these have been centrally funded and in collaboration with statutory agencies and MAPPA. However, we have also successfully provided Circles on behalf of faith communities.
Central funding, which had come from the Ministry of Justice since 2005, came to an end at the end of March 2010. As a result all new Circles need to secure their own funding. This is often through Charitable Trusts and public donations which are vitally important.
LFF remains committed to the development of Circles nationally. We can provide “one off” Circles anywhere in the country or would be happy to collaborate with other Circles projects, statutory agencies, voluntary groups and faith communities to establish new Circles projects. Our staff have a wealth of experience in all aspects of Circle activity including volunteer recruitment and training and core member selection and assessment.
The Lucy Faithfull Foundation is a full member of Circles UK and as such complies with the Circles UK “Code of Practice” and “Practice Guidelines”.
LFF Circles are designed to offer support to the core member at the same time as holding him/her accountable for their actions. Volunteers act as a safety net for both the core member and the community.
We believe that by helping the core member to develop healthy adult relationships, it is possible to maximise the chances of the core member successfully reintegrating into society and living a “good life”, preventing further harm to children. To achieve this, LFF works collaboratively with the statutory agencies, MAPPA and Circles UK the umbrella organisation for CoSA.
We are currently running two projects, one funded by the Esmee Fairburn Foundation (following an initial Home Office grant) in partnership with the Metropolitan Police Service for deportee sex offenders living in London, and our second, a regional Circles project in collaboration with the National Probation Service, Midlands Region, and Central England Quakers.
What is a Circle?
For some men and women who have sexually offended, trying to re-settle into the community, particularly following a period of imprisonment, may be a daunting prospect. They may feel isolated and fearful, and in need of practical support; for example in finding work or managing their money. They may also struggle to rebuild a full and meaningful life whilst managing their ongoing and potentially risky behaviour.
A ’Circle of Support and Accountability’ is formed around the offender – in Circles, called the ‘Core Member’ – by volunteers from the local community. First developed by the Mennonite Church in Canada, they aim to address the safety concerns of the community whilst helping the Core Member to lead a fulfilling and offence-free life. Circles work with Police, Probation, local Multi Agency Public Protection Panels and other professionals working in the field of child protection.
How do Circles work?
Each Circle consists of 4-6 volunteers and a Core Member. It aims to provide a supportive social network that also requires the Core Member to take responsibility (be ‘accountable’) for his/her ongoing risk management. The Circle meets weekly and volunteers also spend individual time with the Core Member, either face to face or by phone. The Circle provides support and practical guidance in such things as developing social skills and accessing benefits. It also helps the Core Member find hobbies and interests. Its ‘life’ is initially for 12 months, but may extend beyond this for as long as the Core Member and volunteers consider it useful.
Who is eligible for a Circle?
Sex offenders serving a sentence in prison or subject to licence/community supervision or sex offender registration. Offenders must be prepared to enter voluntarily into a contract with a Circle. They must have some understanding of their offending behaviour and be actively seeking to develop a positive, non-offending lifestyle.
The role of volunteers
Volunteers are pivotal to the concept of Circles. They should be mature, well-balanced people who are interested in supporting offenders within the community. All volunteers undergo an initial two-day training programme and receive ongoing support from designated LFF staff.
We are not currently recruiting for volunteers but the situation changes as and when we start new Circles.
Watch, Listen and Learn
Click here to listen to a 30 minute BBC 5 Live radio piece, for a full in-depth look at Circles.
Click here to watch a BBC video clip where a volunteer talks about her experience working in Circles.
To find out more about how Circles are administered across the UK visit www.circles-uk.org.uk.
For further information about our Circles of Support and Accountability, becoming a volunteer or setting up a new circle please contact:
Simon Sauze, Project Manager on firstname.lastname@example.org or 01372 847160.