Paul Martin, project manager at Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humber NHS Trust (RDaSH) talks about how Together’s Community Link Workers support delivery of the South Yorkshire trial site.

Together work in partnership with us to deliver NHS England’s South Yorkshire Liaison and Diversion trial site in Rotherham and Doncaster. They have brought with them their experience of supporting successful delivery of the first wave of trial sites in London which has been of great value.

The Liaison and Diversion scheme aims to identify those with mental health needs or other vulnerabilities in court and police settings, and connect them with appropriate services to address these. There is a real link between vulnerability and crime. We try to support someone to manage their wellbeing and engage with their sentence or bail terms, reducing their likelihood of reoffending. Engagement is high – once people are offered support, they tend to take it.

Often it’s about developing life skills and putting in place support for people that they never had growing up

Many struggle to meet the requirements of their bail or sentence terms, often because they don’t understand them or the consequences of not meeting them. People in criminal justice settings have a broad spectrum of needs. They might be experiencing mental health issues, learning difficulties or managing crises in their lives that take priority. They might not have anywhere to live; they may have family problems, or substance misuse issues – all things which affect their ability to engage. Some can’t read or write, which makes it hard to understand the charges brought against them.

Together delivers the community link element of our service here in South Yorkshire, which aims to link people to local services that can help them. Their Community Link Workers have up-to-date knowledge of all local health and social care services available across statutory and voluntary sectors. They essentially carry a directory in their heads as services are constantly morphing and changing.

Community Link Workers are available at court and police custody suites in Rotherham and Doncaster. They assess someone’s vulnerability, and what they need to manage that vulnerability and function day-to-day. Often it’s about developing life skills and putting in place support for people that they never had growing up, such as help to manage finances or a tenancy, or information about nutrition and self-care. It’s about connecting people with multiple needs to an array of different services that can help. It’s complex but when it’s all in place there is a real likelihood of reducing someone’s distress and offending.

Helping people to access appropriate support and reconnect with society undoubtedly reduces re-offending

I can’t emphasise enough the value of the Community Link Workers. They build relationships with local services, establishing professional trust. They know how to access support that individuals might find hard to connect with. They advocate for vulnerable people who may not be able to articulate their needs themselves. They will make the phone call to services to set up appointments, or if instant referral is needed, accompany someone there and then. Either way, they will take them in person to the service they need. Research indicates that there is a better level of engagement with this kind of handover process, and the anecdotal evidence shows that people value this support. 

If there isn’t appropriate support available for someone (due to them not meeting criteria thresholds) or they have been put on a waiting list, the Community Link Worker will continue seeing them. In particular they will make sure someone meets them at court or at the police station if they are bailed back there because facing charges and their consequences can be a frightening low point.

Helping people to access appropriate support and reconnect with society undoubtedly reduces re-offending. Often people are offending because basic things are missing, including income and suitable housing. Some may not have the skills to connect with and participate in society. This service tries to restore missing skill sets, thereby breaking the cycle people are stuck in.