What does this project involve?
The Step Together project aims to reduce crime and violence by placing trained adult ‘chaperones’ on routes used by children walking to and from secondary school in areas identified as having a heightened risk of violence or anti-social behaviour. The West Midlands Violence Reduction Partnership (WMVRP) commissioned 10 local youth-focused organisations to provide staff members as chaperones, and identified 20 routes across the West Midlands where chaperones would be placed to prevent incidents and intervene when incidents occurred (where appropriate).
Why did YEF fund this project?
Step Together is inspired by the Safe Passage programme delivered in Chicago. Jointly run by the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) district and Chicago Police Department, Safe Passage works with community organisations as vendors who hire, train and place neighbourhood residents along specified routes to and from schools at the beginning and end of the school day. The aim is to decrease crime by means of deterrence and reporting by community monitors.
The programme originally started in 2007 as a grassroots initiative led by the Black United Fund of Illinois (BUFI) in Chicago’s South Shore neighbourhood before CPS adopted the approach in the 2009/10 school year with 35 routes across Chicago. It has since expanded to over 160 schools and recently started to include summer periods, supporting CPS Summer Programmes and Chicago Park District programming. A Safe Passage programme was also launched in Washington D.C. in 2017, with further investment in 2021.
Several studies have examined the impact of Safe Passage in Chicago since it launched, and these have suggested positive results including reductions in crime along the chosen routes, reductions in crime on nearby neighbourhood streets, and even reduced rates of absenteeism from school. Given these positive results, the Home Office and YEF funded the delivery of Step Together in the West Midlands, while the YEF also funded an evaluation to ascertain whether the benefits seen in Chicago might be replicated here.
In partnership with the Home Office we funded the delivery of Step Together from 2021-22, while we also funded an implementation and process evaluation (alongside a pilot study published separately). The implementation and process evaluation reviewed the adaptation of the US-delivered Safe Passage programme to a UK context, assessed whether Step Together was delivered as intended, explored the facilitators and barriers to effective implementation, and aimed to inform any future pilots or roll-out of the programme.
To achieve these aims, the evaluation included interviews and focus groups with the WMVRP project team, provider organisations, chaperones, school leaders, pupils, local business and police stakeholders. It also included a survey of chaperones, review of project documentation and observations of provider learning events. The evaluation, which ran from August 2021 to September 2022, has limitations. Data was self-reported, sample sizes were relatively small, and limitations to recruitment may have meant that those involved in the evaluation were not representative of all young people involved.
|Step Together retained the core objectives and features of the US model (delivered in Chicago’s Safe Passage programme). However, adaptations were made. Step Together employed chaperones from commissioned community organisations rather than the neighbourhood residents used by Safe Passage. Step Together chaperones were also given more flexibility to move around routes and played a more active role in de-escalating incidents.|
|Step Together was largely delivered as intended, and the project delivered the target number of routes (19). There was some variation in delivery across providers and chaperones, and chaperones also came from varied organisations (including sports and mentoring-focused organisations). Chaperones were mostly consistent in how they responded to incidents; however, definitions of what constituted an incident varied by provider.|
|The selection and mobilisation of schools, routes and providers were more complex and time-consuming than anticipated. Commissioning local organisations who had a good understanding of the context was perceived to facilitate effective delivery. Chaperones reflected that the training and ongoing support they received effectively supported them in fulfilling their roles. Where chaperones occupied the same routes every weekday, this was perceived to build rapport with pupils, schools and the community.|
|50 chaperones out of the 90 involved in the project responded to the survey. Forty-six respondents reported handling incidents, including those involving physical violence (40), anti-social behaviour (37), bullying (35) and knife crime (15). School staff, pupils and community members reflected that chaperones responded appropriately to incidents, supporting pupils and the community. The small number of young people who were interviewed reflected that they felt safer and that the programme supported their education, mental health and well-being.|
|The lack of a specific manual to adhere to for providers could pose challenges for scaling up Step Together. Developing a suite of materials that can be consistently used across chaperones is key to future roll-out.|
What will YEF do next?
This implementation and process evaluation indicates that Step Together is feasible to implement and shows promising qualitative evidence. We will wait to consider the findings of the concurrent Step Together pilot evaluation before deciding on next steps.