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


Inform Plus Programme & Evaluation

Inform Plus in Devon and Cornwall was a group-work intervention for men convicted of downloading indecent images of children and who were living in the community with very little support apart from being managed by a police officer. In this article, Jamie Stephenson, the coordinator responsible for delivering the programme, talks about the programme and the subsequent evaluation.

Why we were involved: In response to discussions with police officers in Devon and Cornwall who are responsible for the management of those with convictions of a sexual nature (MOSOVOs), a gap in support and monitoring of this group (mainly men) was identified. These men had finished all probation involvement and were therefore managed only by MOSOVOs who did not necessarily have the resources or structure to see them regularly nor sometimes the time or knowledge to deal with any self-reported concerns (non-offending but possibly sexually linked) the men disclose.

What we wanted to do: Because of CSW’s expertise in this area, we were able to offer the police an intervention based on the Inform Plus programme. This is a group-work intervention devised by the Lucy Faithfull Foundation (LFF) for adults arrested, cautioned or convicted of internet offences relating to indecent images of children (IIoC). Circles South West (CSW) is an Approved Provider of Inform Plus in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Wiltshire and was commissioned by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall to provide Inform Plus specifically for convicted men across the two counties.

What is Inform Plus: The programme provides a structured and supportive environment for participants to explore their inappropriate or unhelpful sexual thoughts, feelings and behaviour and to develop strategies to manage these and ultimately to avoid future offending. It is an 11-week course with two facilitators conducting weekly sessions for up to 10 participants.

We delivered four Inform Plus groups at three locations (Camborne, Exeter and Plymouth) involving a total of 20 men completing the programme. Because the participants were at a different time in their ‘offending career’ than those targeted by LFF i.e. post probation supervision rather than pre and during, some minor adjustments were made to the programme to be responsive to the participants’ needs.

Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic and CSW staffing changes interrupted the delivery of the programme significantly. Furthermore, there were noteworthy difficulties with the lack of referrals from MOSOVOs caused by a number of reasons, but with the outcome being that unfortunately, this greatly affected our ability to deliver our planned number of programmes across the two counties.

The Inform programme: In addition to providing four Inform Plus programmes, we also delivered a related programme, ‘Inform’, for partners and relatives of people who have committed internet offences involving indecent images of children.  The Inform programme focuses on providing safety and support for the participants to explore the emotional and practical impact on them and their family. Ideally, the Inform participants would be the partners, family members of friends of the Inform Plus men. However, because the majority of the men on the Inform Plus programme did not have partners or supportive family members at that time and because of difficulties in persuading those that did, to be involved, we were only able to run one Inform programme, which was delivered successfully in Camborne.

The evaluation: Since 2017, Research in Practice (RIP) have worked with CSW as an independent evaluator of our core Circles work and we secured funding from NOTA for RIP to evaluate the Inform Plus project. We worked with RIP to develop a set of questionnaires (two pre-existing and one modified) for Inform Plus men to complete during and after the programme. The questionnaires were designed to capture how they had changed as a result of the course with respect to one protective factor and two risk factors for internet related reoffending.

Questionnaires were completed at the start and end of the course as well as 3-month follow-up. Quantitative data was collected from participants across 3 core questionnaires, and qualitative comments were also gathered on participant progress from the individuals themselves as well as the Inform Plus facilitators.

What the evaluation suggested: Positive changes were detected in the combined scores of all Inform Plus cohorts for every tool between each time point. Changes were statistically significant between the earliest and latest scores for three of the six tools used in the study. So, although involving a relatively small number of participants, this evidence supports the use of Inform Plus as part of a restorative approach to reducing the risk of internet sexual offending.

Using a mixed methods approach we found that participants themselves, as well as facilitators and MOSOVO officers (Management of Sexual and Violent Offenders), noticed positive changes in participant sociability, relationships, work life, and emotional well-being.

The qualitative data noted that over the course of the programme, participants had found or applied for new work, developed a better attitude with colleagues, or improved their productivity at work. Some participants had achieved a greater life balance, improved relationships and a better ability to empathise. Others found new work where their skills could grow or had put their finances in order. The data referred to greater participant happiness, self-control and calmness; exercising more and feeling benefits to their well-being; and a new awareness for how to apply the principles of the Good Life Model (GLM) when needed. However, other participants experienced worsening depression and intense feelings of guilt or stress due to past convictions or current investigations. In some such cases, the participant had reached out to external agencies for support or described the value of the course in helping them to understand their offending and preventing them from repeating criminal behaviours. One participant was developing an interest in gardening, another was focusing on learning through YouTube, and yet another had become more aware of their triggers for offending. A small minority of comments expressed the need for greater social engagement.

Stakeholders noted improvements in participants’ sociability with colleagues and neighbours, as well as meeting new people and reported positive changes in the lives of participants, with only a few references to continued struggles in the life factors targeted by the intervention. Stakeholders often mentioned an improvement in participants’ emotional wellbeing and their confidence to reengage with society and employment, as well as in maintaining positive relationships with friends and colleagues.

Facilitator thoughts: As a facilitator on each of the four Inform Plus programmes and having run numerous similar but ‘accredited’ MOJ programmes both in the community and prison as a probation officer, I was particularly struck by the willingness of many of the men to discuss how they continued to struggle with inappropriate or unhelpful thoughts and feelings.  As you would expect, they found it difficult, if not impossible, to discuss these with family members, friends and/or their police officers and therefore valued the opportunity to be open and honest about the impact that this had on them over long periods of time.  There was a clear acknowledgment that such thoughts and feelings are likely to be experienced again in the future, particularly at times of stress or life difficulties, and therefore the opportunity to discuss them and develop strategies to deal with them are needed. Whilst participation on the programme was completely voluntary, attendance was very impressive and most men turned up for all sessions, suggesting that it met their needs in some form.

Conclusion: In conclusion, the evaluation suggested that participants of Inform Plus showed reduced risk of reoffending, as measured in improvements to protective factors and the mitigation of risk factors for criminal internet behaviours. We feel that the evaluation offers evidence to support the effectiveness of Inform Plus in strengthening protective factors and mitigating risk factors for internet sexual offending for men convicted of offences relating to indecent images of children. However, due to the small sample sizes obtained for this study, caution is advised in interpreting the results.

Thanks: I would like to thank my co-facilitators, Rose, Kelly, Alastair, Mel, Michelle and Sarah for their support, professionalism, hard work, skill, expertise and patience in delivering the programmes in what were difficult circumstances.  I also pay tribute to the twenty men who voluntarily put themselves forward and participated in the programmes, often talking about very difficult and emotive subjects and placing themselves in vulnerable positions but with the common goal of desisting from offending in the future and leading ‘better lives’.

You can read the full report here: Inform Plus Report Final Sept23

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