Delivering circles of support and accountability to protect communities from sexual harm and sexual reoffending


CoSA Roundup 2022-23

As the financial year closes it's a good time to look back at our achievements of the past 12 months. We talked to Circles South West' CEO, Jo Burden, to round up the highlights.

How many Circles of Support and Accountability (CoSA) did you provide?
We coordinated 49 CoSA for 49 individual adults and young people, 26 of which were newly established in year (since April 2022).

What type of CoSA did you provide?
Standard Community CoSA, Through-the-Gate CoSA, CoSA for people with intellectual Disabilities, CoSA for young people (10-18 years) and Circles ReBoot.

Where were your CoSA services delivered?
We coordinated CoSA in each of the 5 Police Force areas in South West England and have extended our reach by providing new services in new areas (e.g. Young People’s Circles in Dorset).

What was the volunteer engagement?
Around 180 community volunteers were involved in 49 Circles, meeting regularly (often weekly) with their core member for 12-18 months. They have given a huge number of volunteering hours and their dedicated service has made a significant impact on preventing future sexual abuse and community safety.

Independent evaluation by Research in Practice tells us that of the 208 volunteers surveyed:

88% said they found their Circles volunteering experience rewarding
97% said they felt safe throughout their Circles volunteering experience
92% said the training and guidance they received adequately prepared them for their volunteer role with Circles
78% learnt valuable new skills through volunteering with Circles
93% felt able to cope with the emotional pressure of volunteering for Circles
93% had a person/people they could turn to for emotional support if needed
93% felt well supported by Circles South West throughout their time volunteering
86% said they intend to volunteer in another Circle in future
93% said they would recommend volunteering with Circles

What is the impact did the CoSA have?
February 2023 saw the publication of a 5 year independent evaluation report about the impact of CoSA provided by Circles South West; Research in Practice independently evaluated 131 CoSA between 2017-2022.

Data for each circle was collected at multiple time points, using multiple tools – including psychometric tests, bespoke questionnaires, dynamic risk reviews, self-reporting – and from multiple stakeholders – including; core members, volunteers, coordinators and parents/carers in the case of young people, providing a very comprehensive data set.

The research highlights the statistically significant impact of Circles in reducing dynamic risk factors associated with sexual recidivism over the life of a Circle, including sexual interests, offence related attitudes, relationships and self-management (see above table). It shows that dynamic risk is impacted by protective factors such as employment and accommodation status, community connectivity and involvement in positive activities as well as risk factors such as social isolation and emotional loneliness, all of which were impacted by Circles.

Research in Practice found the following outcomes for 98 adult core members between the start and end of their CoSA:

“Circles of Support and Accountability are an important part of a community-led, strengths-based and restorative approach to reducing the risk of future sexual abuse” Research in Practice

What was new this year?
We were one of the two Providers of the national Circles Reboot pilot programme, adapted specifically for adults convicted of online offences involving CSEM (child sexual exploitation material) / IIOC (indecent images of children) who are low-medium risk of serious harm. Early independent evaluation findings (by ONLINEProtect) are encouraging and we’re pleased to be involved in the programme roll out.

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