Finding the keys to diversion

29 April 2014
By Dr Graham Durcan

A large proportion of people in the criminal justice system have multiple or complex needs including a range of mental health problems. Many have repeated contact with the police and a number of other public services yet rarely get the support they need to build better lives.

With funding from the LankellyChase Foundation, Centre for Mental Health has been investigating how liaison and diversion services can best identify and support people with multiple needs when they come into contact with the police and courts.

We found that successful liaison and diversion services offer immediate help with people’s basic needs, such as with housing and benefits, as well as mental health problems. They have a comprehensive knowledge of local services for people with multiple needs in order to build packages of support from a range of local agencies. They help make connections for people to other local services rather than just referring them on. And they offer ‘drop-in’ support whenever people need it long after they have been diverted.

The services we studied for Keys to Diversion include Mo:Del in Manchester, which works with up to 150 people at a time for up to six months. Its clients are offered help to get work, to manage their finances and to learn basic skills such as cookery.

We also studied CASS, a Rethink Mental Illness drop-in service that delivers early intervention to people attending Plymouth, Bodmin and Truro Magistrates Courts. It helps to address complex needs (eg homelessness, drugs and alcohol, finance, education and employment, physical and mental health) by supporting people through Court process and also by helping them with supported referrals to agencies based in local communities.

The people we met who use these services invariably had a history of neglect, trauma, abuse and mental ill health. Many had been turned away or received only intermittent help from mental health services. Yet with consistent and coherent support, they can rebuild their lives.

Our report has major implications for national and local policy and practice. It is vital, for example, that clinical commissioning groups coordinate care across agencies for people with multiple needs so that liaison and diversion services can help them to get the support they need when they need it. This should include timely access to psychological therapy for people in contact with liaison and diversion services and for those under probation supervision.

Liaison and diversion services, meanwhile, should be able to assess for a wide range of needs, to offer immediate help with practical matters like housing and benefits if required, and to stay in touch with the people they divert rather than just referring them on to other services and losing contact.

By looking closely at four highly effective liaison and diversion services, we have been able to identify the keys to diversion for people with multiple needs. While every local area is unique, the keys to diversion can be applied universally to guide local commissioners, planners and managers to get the best value for money from their services and achieve the biggest possible improvement in people’s lives.

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