How drama therapy tackles trauma

Programme reduces reoffending by addressing the needs of children in the youth justice system.


Manchester Youth Justice


Approximately £70,000 a year from Manchester's Community Safety Partnership


Many children entering the youth justice system have faced trauma and have communication needs. Manchester Youth Justice used funding from the local Community Safety Partnership to commission speech and language and drama therapy. The success of a six-month pilot led to the programme being extended for another year with further funding.


The funding pays for part-time speech and language therapist input as well as drama therapists, also known an emotional and trauma support workers. They make assessments of referred children and provide interventions. Children are aged between 10 and 18, with most around 13 and 14.

Young people are referred to the drama therapy service by youth justice officers. The service is used as a first step, to encourage children to talk about traumatic events they have experienced. It also seeks to find alternative ways to engage young people with the support services they need, including education.

Drama therapists work with children for an hour a week for about six months. "Many have never had the opportunity to open up and address some of the traumatic events in their life, particularly bereavement," says Marie McLaughlin, head of Manchester Youth Justice. Drama therapists use a range of approaches including art, music and storytelling.

All children in the youth justice system are assessed for speech and language needs and the whole youth justice team has been trained to recognise communication difficulties. Therapists use a range of techniques including Lego therapy, where small groups build something from Lego but each participant has a different role, such as selecting the right piece, or giving an instruction.


Of the 21 children referred for assessment by a speech and language therapist in 2016, 15 completed the programme and only two reoffended - a 13 per cent reoffending rate. An internal evaluation concluded only seven out of 27 young people reoffended during or after the drama therapy programme - a 26 per cent reoffending rate. These results compare favourably with an overall reoffending rate of 37 per cent.

CYP Now Digital membership

  • Policy and research analysis
  • Evidence-based case studies
  • Leadership advice
  • Legal updates
  • Local area spotlights

From £170 /year


CYP Now Magazine

  • Policy and research analysis
  • Evidence-based case studies
  • Leadership advice and interviews
  • Legal updates

From £136 /year