John Heitinga welcomed a group of young people from Everton in the Community’s Safe Hands project to Finch Farm this week.
The Dutch international spent time with the youngsters, who are currently taking part in the ground-breaking programme, established to help young offenders improve their life chances.
Heitinga took part in a question and answer session about health and fitness and the importance of motivation to success.
He also listened to the participants' aspirations for the future and offered help and advice on maximising their potential.
“It was really great to meet the guys and hear their stories,” said Heitinga. “Life can be really hard and people can make the wrong decisions. It was good to work with the boys and listen to their plans for the future. It was really positive. I wish them luck with their plans.”
The scheme, which targets those aged 15-21 who find themselves in young offenders’ institutions and secure units across Merseyside, has a passion and dedication to change lives and offer opportunities participants may never have considered as options before.
Supported by four full-time members of specialist staff and four volunteers, Safe Hands promises to work with as many as 30 participants each year to assist them through three significant cycles of their rehabilitation.
The project, which has been shortlisted for the Community Award at the forthcoming Sport Industry Awards, strives to help young people engage more positively with their local communities, as well as friends, families and partners, alleviating community mistrust and challenging negative stigmas associated with young offenders.
Another aim is to rebuild families through mediation and a system of integrating young offenders back into their homes, while dissuading them from avoidable alternatives.
Since its launch in April 2012, the programme has achieved an 85 percent non re-offending rate among participants, compared to the national average figure of 26 percent.
The programme has initially been set a target to prevent 52 per cent of participants re-offending within 12 months of release and if the scheme continues at its current rate it will save the taxpayer £52million.
Safe Hands’ unique approach to supporting young offenders is attracting much attention, including interest from the Ministry for Justice.
The project, which is funded by the Big National Lottery Fund, provides 20 hours or more per week of bespoke, themed workshops and accredited education and training opportunities catering for participants individual needs and interests.
An overwhelming 80 percent of the young people on the programme have demonstrated a measurable increase in confidence, self-esteem and optimism about their future, with 83 percent achieving a range of accredited qualifications, allowing them to venture back into education, training or employment.
Sue Gregory, Safe Hands manager, said: “I am extremely proud of the programme and the young people who have achieved so much. The participants have responded brilliantly to our approach to rehabilitation and I believe will continue to change their lives in a positive way, which is a fantastic prospect for communities across Liverpool.”
For more information about Safe Hands, click here.