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


Making a difference

A persuasive and growing evidence base

There is a persuasive and growing evidence base that Circles of Support and Accountability work. A summary of some of the key research regarding the efficacy of Circles both in England and Wales, and internationally, is produced here:

CoSA – Summary Key Research

A further reading list here:

Research & Journals

Recent research specific to Circles South West

Research in Practice, independent evaluator 2016-2019

In 2016 CSW was awarded a 3 year grant by The National Lottery Community Fund to develop, establish and evaluate 3 new pilot projects, adapting the tried and tested Circles of Support and Accountability model to suit 3 new user groups: young people; adults with intellectual disabilities; and adults serving sentences for sexual convictions (Prison/Through The Gate Circles). Research in Practice was appointed, initially to co-produce a bespoke Monitoring and Evaluation Framework, and subsequently to undertake a detailed process and outcomes evaluation of our CoSA delivered by Circles South West between 2016 and 2019.

“CSW has taken a highly evidence informed approach to evaluation of circles, and the variety of different questionnaires have provided a rich picture of dynamic risk for core members” (Final Evaluation Report, March 2019, p47).

The findings are based on data collected on 58 Circles between November 2016 and March 2019. This includes 36 pilot circles (8 intellectual disabilities, 14 prison/TTG, 14 young people) and 22 ‘standard’ adult community circles.

The evaluation concludes that:

CSW has provided a large and valuable service to the region throughout the duration of this evaluation. The majority of core members appear to have reduced dynamic risk of reoffending at the end of their circles compared to the beginning”. – p59

“Overall we have shown a marked difference in a balanced measure of dynamic risk between the start and end of circles. In other words, during the time that circles have been active, perceived risk due to dynamic factors has reduced for core members. Further evidence from across the evaluations suggests that the circle has had a large contributory effect in this reduction of risk”. – p57

Partners in prison, probation and youth services have a positive view of this work, and CSW are complementing wider work in the criminal justice sector. CoSA are an important part of a community-led, strengths-based and restorative approach to reducing the risk of future sexual abuse”.” – p59

Working alongside Research in Practice has been a really positive process. Oli Preston (Head of Research and Evaluation) and his team took the time to properly understand what we do and were therefore able to design and undertake their research in an insightful and comprehensive way. The final report clearly captures the positive outcomes and, importantly, it evidences statistically significant reduction in dynamic risk over the Circle process, as well as presenting rich data analysis and interpretation which will influence our work going forward.

The final evaluation report and executive summary and supplementary reports (case studies and appendices) can be accessed here CSW – 2019 – FINAL REPORT v2 and here CSW – 2019 – Executive summary

The interim evaluation report and executive summary can be accessed here FINAL CSW Interim Evaluation Report – Oct 2018 and here EXEC SUMMARY CSW Interim Evaluation Report – Oct 2018

The five year evaluation of 131 Circles of Support & Accountability, published in February 2023, can be accessed here CSW CoSA Evaluation 2017-2022 [RiP Feb23]

We are grateful to The National Lottery Community Fund for investing in independent evaluation commissioned by Circles South West.


University of Cambridge, 2018

Glebe House provides therapeutic residential care for adolescent males who have displayed harmful sexual behaviours. The Friends Therapeutic Trust commissioned the University of Cambridge to evaluate Circles established for young adults to support their transition to living independent in the community on leaving Glebe House. Circles South West has provided 3 such Circles to date. The evaluation report published in July 2018 includes the young people’s Circles provided by Circles South West and can be accessed here Evaluation of Glebe House Circles, July 2018 [Cambridge Uni]. The evaluator concludes that:

“The Circle offers support, social interaction and positive role models at the vulnerable time of transition…Circles are a particularly good fit for Glebe House as both institutions are informed by a Quaker ethos of social action reinforcing the importance of relationships, community and collective responsibility.

Circles constituted a space where they could talk and discuss problems, and where they were heard. Relationships within Circles were often (although not always) characterised as trusting, warm and friendly. The activity element of Circles built relationships and enabled the young men to try new leisure pursuits. Circles also offered practical help and guidance in areas such as housing, money management and employment.

The young men in the study were asked whether they would recommend that everyone leaving Glebe House was provided with a Circle. All those who had experienced a Circle said that they would, including one who replied ‘Why wouldn’t you have a Circle?’”


University of the West of England, 2016

McCartan (2016) evaluated 29 Circles set up across the South West, South East, North East and Yorkshire and Humberside. The progress of the Core Members over the course of the Circle was assessed using the Dynamic Risk Review (DRR: a scored questionnaire completed by Volunteers based on the domains of the Structured Assessment of Risk and Need) and structured interviews with the Core Member based on the DRR. The majority demonstrated reductions in dynamic risk over the course of the Circle, and many showed improved outcomes with respect to accommodation, employment, relationships and other circumstances compared to at the start of the Circle. The Evaluator concludes that:

“Circles assists in the reintegration of sexual offenders into the community by providing pro-social support, role modelling, a positive platform and grounded assistance. Circles provide social and emotional support to the Core Members…. being in a stronger position to live offence free in the community than at the beginning of their Circle” (McCartan, 2016).


The Executive Summary is here:

CoSA Social Action Fund – Exec Summary May16

and a Circles South West specific Summary Report here:

CoSA RSAF Evaluation – CSW specific Sept16


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