You’ve got to know what works to cut youth crime

By Phil Neal

| 10 January 2013

I was interested to see the results of a survey* undertaken by Capita at the Youth Justice Convention in November. They revealed that three out of five staff working with young offenders are not able to easily identify which services are most effective at turning lives around.

Young offenders on remand are now classed as looked after and, from April, local authorities will be responsible for the cost of their provision. As budgets tighten, councils will be under growing pressure to invest in those services that get results in cutting the number of young people coming through the youth justice system.

The survey results suggest that putting the right support in place to improve outcomes for young offenders could be a real challenge for some teams once funding for youth remand provision is devolved.

I was also somewhat surprised to discover that 48% of respondents said they do not have access to technology which allows them to identify changes in a young person’s circumstances. This could have a major impact on the success of any early intervention and prevention work.

Knowing what works is key to preventing more young people from becoming entrenched in the downward spiral of criminality and reducing long-term support costs from repeat offending.

Let’s imagine Tom, a young lad who has a history of exclusion from school and a previous record of involvement with drugs. He finds himself on remand in connection with a burglary.

It could be that Tom has some very specific issues that have contributed to him reaching this point – he may have got involved with a local gang, experienced a family bereavement when he was younger or could be struggling with mental health difficulties.

There are individual practitioners and teams of people up and down the country doing great work supporting young people like Tom, who often have incredibly complicated lives. They know how to unravel and address the different issues many vulnerable young people experience and frequently work alongside other services to steer them away from criminality and on to a better future.

It’s these services that authorities need to be able to uncover and tap into if they are to successfully improve outcomes.  

Advances in technology have made it possible for councils to flag up those children who are considered to be at greatest risk of following a life of crime when they are older. Young lives like Tom’s could turn out very differently if authorities could identify children at risk of ending up in front of a judge while they are still young enough to be encouraged to take a different pathway. 

The time is right for councils to move their use of IT beyond the electronic filing cabinet and ensure the information they are recording on children and young people from schools and other sources informs the decisions being made on tackling the issue around youth crime.

Phil Neal is managing director at Capita Children's Services


* The survey was completed by 33 attendees at the Youth Justice Board Conference in November 2012.  

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