Oxleas at forefront of pilot therapy programme for young offenders

The MST Team (Left to right): Dr Sheena Webb, MST supervisor; Dr Varinder Panesar, MST therapist;  Candy Orozco, MST therapist; Sandra Kemp, MST administrator and Stephanie Schutte, MST therapist.

Oxleas Multisystemic Therapy (MST) Team in Greenwich is at the centre of a national four year trial – which will run until the end of 2011.

The scheme to keep challenging young people out of care or prison through intensive family support won the backing of government ministers recently, who said it might offer a cost-effective way to deal with antisocial behaviour.

Greenwich Child and Adult Mental Health Services (CAMHS) in partnership with Greenwich Social Care won a bid to pilot MST, under the auspices of Consultant Clinical Psychologist, Dr Lesley French. It is funded by the Department of Health.

Re-offending in troubled and aggressive young people can be significantly cut using the pioneering MST methods. Reporting on the initial findings of the first UK evaluation pilot, researchers found in families with multiple problems that the use of MST reduced the risk of re-offending, particularly among boys. 

In Greenwich Clinical Psychologist, Dr Sheena Webb, 36, is MST Supervisor. Sheena, who has been with the trust for two years and the NHS since 1999, is a passionate advocate for her work. Her team is based at the St Nicholas Centre at Tewson Road in Plumstead.

She said: “The team works with families who have a lot of needs and can find it hard to access services in clinics.

“We deal mainly with young people between the ages of 11 and 17 who have anti-social behaviour problems. We try and work with the whole ecology around any one young person. We can involve the person’s school, local community, peers, parents and family.

“We have a team of four therapists. Each one can work with up to four families at any one time often visiting them two or three times a week. And somebody is always on call 24 hours a day.”

Dr Webb said that in Greenwich at the end of a treatment period, which can last up to five months, 85% of families are still together and about 75% of the young people in question have not been re-arrested.

Re-offending in troubled and aggressive young people can be significantly cut using MST. In an evaluation of the pilot researchers found in families with multiple problems that the use of MST reduced the risk of re-offending, particularly among boys. 

They found that lower re-offending behaviour was evident two years down the line compared to existing service approaches, and can be cost effective, because young people are kept out of custody or local authority care, and parents are encouraged to use the voluntary sector and local supports instead.

The scheme, approved by NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence), has been trialed across ten sites in England (Greenwich being one of them), having been successful in the United States.

MST revolves around improving parenting, increasing young people’s engagement with education and training, reducing their offending behaviour, and tackling underlying health or mental health problems, including substance misuse. It is used where young people are at risk of out of home placement in either care or custody, due to delinquent and aggressive behaviour, and anti-social attitudes.

According to the Office of National Statistics one in 10 children aged five to 16 years has a mental health disorder, conduct disorder is the most common disorder in boys (7%). Rates of disorders increase from childhood to adolescence and 50% of young people with conduct disorder may develop anti-social personality disorder (NICE 2009).

Cost effectiveness research on MST from Washington State Institute for Public Policy in the U.S. suggests that £5 is saved for every £1 invested in the programme.

Recently, Care Services Minister Paul Burstow said: “We must do all we can to keep young people out of the criminal justice system - these findings show encouraging results about how we might do that.

“The research shows the key role mental health staff and the voluntary sector can play in work with young people and their families.”

Children's Minister Tim Loughton said: "We must make sure that young people with complex needs are getting the help they need to get their lives back on track.”

Graham Robb, Board Member of the Youth Justice Board said: “The findings of this evaluation are very encouraging. MST can turn around the lives of children and families while also making overall savings to the public purse. The YJB has a strong track record for exploring the potential of pioneering evidence based programmes, and as such we are really keen to support MST.”

Photo caption:

From left to right outside the St. Nicholas Centre in Plumstead is: Dr Sheena Webb, MST supervisor; Dr Varinder Panesar, MST therapist;  Candy Orozco, MST therapist; Sandra Kemp, MST administrator and Stephanie Schutte, MST therapist.

Published on 3rd September 2010