It’s now six months since I joined the Fulfilling Lives national evaluation team. My background is in community and criminal justice research, so I have a degree of familiarity with the target group. I have evaluated initiatives to help re-engagement on release from prison, to provide pathways to education and ultimately employment, and to help with accommodation and independent living. Offenders often have chaotic lifestyles and multiple needs including experience of homelessness, alcohol and/or drug dependency, and/or mental health issues. You can often find childhood trauma, special educational needs or attachment issues as well. What struck me time and time again when listening to offenders and their workers tell me their stories was the lack of coherent support available to people who are in desperate need of help.
And so to what I see as the core of the Fulfilling Lives programme. The 12 projects are filling an important gap in offering intense, individualised, holistic support to those who need it most. But this is not easy. Workers told us that urgent or complex cases can take up to a week or two of their time, and crisis situations such as suicide risks, arrests or sudden health emergencies can happen without warning. Negotiating access to services for beneficiaries can also be time-consuming and bureaucratic. Small caseloads are, therefore, vital. The resources available through Fulfilling Lives can allow for this to an extent.
Although I was familiar with this target group, coming into this project I still could not have anticipated the level of need. Projects could fill their books time and time again with potential beneficiaries. The 12 funded Fulfilling Lives initiatives cover a small proportion of the country. And they are funded for a finite period of time. One particularly poignant message from our last Annual Report is the number of beneficiaries who have died during their time with Fulfilling Lives. 137 people, or 5 per cent of all beneficiaries. 137 brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, partners, parents. Some, however, have nobody – it is extraordinarily sad that some staff were next of kin for deceased beneficiaries. There is not just a high level of need, but a gravity of need too.
To me this underlines the importance of the next few years on (and off) the programme. The need for a change in current system has been stressed, and projects have begun to affect change in the way wider services approach and work with people with multiple and complex needs. Our job as national evaluators is to bring together evidence of what works, to ensure that wider services can effectively meet the extensive and varied needs of those who need them the most. That will be the legacy of Fulfilling Lives.
For more information please see our 2017 annual report.