Greater investment needed for brain injury rehab for young people at risk of offending says Brain Injury Charity Chief

Brain injury charity chief says greater investment in rehabilitation needed for young people at risk of offending and young offenders to reduce future criminality, social exclusion and mental health difficulties.

The Chief Executive of Brain Injury Matters, Fiona McCabe, has called for greater investment in Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) rehabilitation and community support services for young people as a key way of reducing the risk of offending, social exclusion and mental health difficulties.

Fiona McCabe, CEO of Brain Injury Matters 

Fiona McCabe, CEO of Brain Injury Matters 

The call comes at the start of Acquired Brain Injury Awareness Week which takes place from 14th– 20th May.

The charity says there is a developing body of global and local research that identifies a high rate of brain injury right across the criminal youth justice system.

Recent studies suggest between 50-70% of young offenders currently in the justice system have an identified ABI, but investment in dedicated multidisciplinary rehabilitation services for adolescents is non-existent.

Young people living with an ABI have a disability that is less visible, less understood, and so open to misinterpretation of the young person's needs. This may result in a loss of friends and reduced social networks, over reliance on family for social needs and generally lower social participation.

In general, the identification, appropriate assessment and setting out of a treatment pathway is paramount for adolescents with a traumatic brain injury from all backgrounds.

The evidence indicates that without appropriate support to meet the emotional and social needs of young people, problems will escalate. More complex issues are likely to develop such as the deterioration of mental health, behavioural problems and anti-social behaviour that will ultimately place extra burden on adult health and social services. This is due to the complex nature of brain injury which can result in impulsivity, challenges with problem solving or flexible thinking, reduced social skills and poor emotional understanding, among a wide range of other issues.

Fiona McCabe, Chief Executive, Brain Injury Matters:

“We are aware that there is an inextricable link between anti-social and offending behaviour in young people with a traumatic brain injury here in Northern Ireland.  The high incidence rate is worrying, and lack of any investment is failing our young people.”

“The complete lack of service provision for those young people both inside and outside the criminal justice system means we are missing opportunities to intervene early and avoid long term problems which ultimately results in a poorer quality of life for them.”

“Rehabilitation requires support and education of a wide range of people such as carers, family, friends as well as a whole range of professional support for those with an ABI to lead a fulfilled life in their own community.”

“Recently, Brain Injury Matters developed a programme called ‘Youth Matters’ as a direct response to prevent the onset of negative secondary issues for young people with an acquired brain injury. The demand for this has been very high and proves that there has been a complete lack of attention towards this high-risk group.”

“This one to one and group-based support programme for young people (13-18 years old) across Northern Ireland aims to help young people achieve self-identified goals, promote age appropriate independence, maximise social and educational engagement, promote psychological adjustment post-ABI and improve overall well-being.”

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Academic Dr Mark Linden from The Queen’s University of Belfast said:

“The research that we carried out showed that the majority (87%) of young male offenders in NI have had some degree of brain injury.”

“These injuries have occurred during childhood or adolescence which are critical periods for brain development. As such, many of these young men fail to fully develop regions of the brain called the frontal lobes which govern aspects of behaviour such as planning, understanding the consequences of their actions and the regulation of behaviour.”

“Our work has also shown that many young men were never told they had received a brain injury and were not aware of the consequences of this on their behaviour. Instead they may have been informed that they had a concussion (classed as a mild brain injury), the seriousness of which was down played. It is increasingly recognised that mild brain injuries make up the majority of cases and that they can have significant and long-lasting consequences. Approximately 66% of young offenders in our research sample had more than three injuries with many having more than six.”

“This work highlights the importance of proper screening and monitoring of young offenders as they enter the Criminal Justice System (CJS) so that targeted rehabilitation strategies may be put in place to better support their needs. It further suggests the need to better educate professionals working within the CJS to provide context to sentencing decisions and understanding of the needs of young men with brain injuries.”