Health professionals of tomorrow take pioneering steps at Craiginches

As part of a revalidation of the BSc (Hons) Occupational Therapy at Robert Gordon University, emphasis is moving towards situated learning experiences, meaning that students are spending more time working and learning within the local community. As part of this, two third year students are currently delivering life skills workshops for a group of offenders at Craiginches Prison in Aberdeen.

Stephanie Morrison, a lecturer in Occupational Therapy who is leading the project, explains: "We are trying to imbue a sense of social responsibility and values in the students, to enable a greater understanding of the complex health and social needs of individuals. What students learn first-hand from these experiences cannot be taught in a classroom."

In addition to the project at Craiginches, students are also supporting elderly people by working alongside Alzheimers Scotland and Inchgarth Community Centre in the local community, as well as working with people who have learning disabilities, drugs and alcohol issues, and with individuals who are in the criminal justice system.

Currently there is no occupational therapy service at Craiginches Prison but the knowledge and contribution of occupational therapy is becoming more widely recognised by many sectors, and the students' efforts are helping to highlight this. The role of the occupational therapist involves an integrated assessment of a person's daily life and its context which then provides a comprehensive assessment of how and why the person may be experiencing specific problems.

Eileen Collins (21), who is originally from Tipperary in Ireland and Karen Lennon (21), who is originally from Kilkenny in Ireland, make up the student duo who have been working with offenders at Craiginches. They are running a life skills workshop in order to assess the complex health and social needs of these individuals whilst also enabling the participants to prepare for life back in the community.

Eileen says: "It has been a very powerful learning experience and we are learning how we can play a key role in bringing together the many services required for this population. I have benefitted from a number of different situated learning experiences and it has enhanced my understanding and motivation to learn more."

Karen adds: "I chose Robert Gordon University because of the opportunity to get excellent placement experiences and I am really enjoying working at Craiginches.

There is definitely a need for occupational therapy expertise in the prison as we could provide key information to relevant support services. The offenders have been keen to learn new skills and it has been encouraging to see them feel more prepared for returning to the community."

Breaking the cycle of reoffending is an ever more important task for society.

With the ability to assess the whole picture of a person's health and social care needs, occupational therapists could play a key role in preparing offenders for life after prison.

Colin Elms, Head of Offender Outcomes at Craiginches, explains: "This is a welcome addition to the work that is already being done to make a positive impact on offenders' lifestyle options. Prisoners are responding well to the structure and delivery of this programme and its alternative approach. Projects like these feed into the aims of the criminal justice system with regards to the deduction of persistent offending."

It is hoped that the students currently engaging in these learning experiences will go back to the same settings for a full six weeks on a full-time basis next year as Honours year students. For more information about the courses on offer at the University's School of Health Sciences, visit the Health Professions pages.

Notes to editor:

There will be an opportunity to interview and photograph the students running the life skills workshop at Craiginches, alongside a prison officer, while the inmates complete this week's task, at 11am tomorrow (Monday 29 March). Members of the media should bring photographic ID and meet Katy Jones on arrival to the main entrance of the facility.

Alternatively, photographs will be available on request.

Katy Jones
Communications Officer
Robert Gordon University
AB10 1FR
Tel: 01224 262206