Could you be an ‘Appropriate Adult’ volunteer in Croydon?

By - Friday 28th September, 2018

The local Appropriate Adult scheme is run by Croydon Voluntary Action. Could you be a part of it?

What happens when a juvenile or a person with a mental difficulties is taken into custody – something that is already an uneasy experience for a well-functioning adult?

Public concern over obtaining misleading evidence from vulnerable suspects led to the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and its codes of practice (PACE). PACE set out rules and safeguards, and defines the role of the ‘Appropriate Adult’ (AAs) who accompanies those who are under the age of eighteen or people of any age who are ‘mentally disordered or otherwise vulnerable’, monitoring their treatment and questioning while detained by the police. This vulnerability includes mental difficulties as well as learning disabilities and other conditions which affect communication.

The local Appropriate Adult scheme is organised by Croydon Voluntary Action (CVA), which links into the nationwide scheme. With diminishing public funds for paid AAs, the necessity for volunteers increases. Although volunteers cover out-of-office hours and public holidays at the moment, it will soon include daytime call-outs as well. Please contact CVA if you would like to be involved.

You’ll need curiosity, determination and focus

If you are thinking of taking part in the scheme, this is how your induction will go.

Step 1: application

You want to do something worthwhile. You like challenges. You think growth comes by facing the unknown. That’s why you apply to Croydon Voluntary Action for the local Appropriate Adult volunteering scheme.

You will need reasonable computer literacy, and the ability to send an email within office hours.

Step 2: interview

Your application has been reviewed. You are invited to a one-to-one interview in central Croydon, to discuss the role further and to envisage some possible scenarios.

Step 3: training

Once taken on, you receive three hours of training. To do well, you’ll need curiosity, determination and focus, and empathy for the detainees with whom you will be engaged.

Step 4: custody visit

A police officer will show you around the custody centre so that you can orientate yourself. You’ll be required to be punctual, to understand the dynamic of a place with its own unique rules (it reminded me of my traineeship at a psychiatric hospital), not to touch black ‘panic strips’ on the walls if you are not really in a panic state, and to have the ability to focus on listening carefully whilst standing for nearly two hours.

Step 5: shadowing

The induction process is not straightforward and not intended to be so, since the role of an AA is not for everyone. If at this stage you remain committed, you need to test the waters and accompany an experienced AA volunteer. This might be at a custody session to observe an experienced AA during a conversation with a woman with mental health issues, accompany a strip search for a minor, or join for an interview with another stressed-out woman with her lawyer. All present their own challenges.

There is real value in supporting a vulnerable person at a difficult time

To be an AA requires that you can remain centred whilst others are in distress, be open-minded and aware of the basic physical needs of detainees (for sleep, warm clothing or a phone call), pay close attention to detail and collaborate with all the related parties, such as police officers, health professionals, social services, and lawyers, to ensure the safeguarding and wellbeing of the detainee.

A second shadowing session will introduce you to different approaches and help you gain confidence. Once you have successfully completed the process, you then wait to be called upon to work your own first shift.

The Appropriate Adult scheme appears to assist the smooth running of the custodial system including the police, social services and mental health services. There is real value in supporting a detained person in an environment that makes almost everyone anxious and gives a feeling of uncertainty.

Gokcen Odabas

Gokcen Odabas

Gökçen Odabaş is a curious person who loves to indulge herself in different areas from working as a doctor and a forensic physician in a very busy practice to being a business coach, assessor and editor. All her work has something in common: to notice and support dysfunctions. Her subject areas change but but her all-time love is words. Although she worked as an editor in her mother tongue Turkish, she is new to English writing, much as she is new to Croydon. She joins every possible activity around this neighbourhood as a voluntary anthropologist, to feel the borough in a relatively short time.

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