Education and welfare at heart of Taylor’s vision for youth justice

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Charlie Taylor’s review calls for the creation of a system that better meets children’s welfare and education needs. Experts analyse the merits of the recommendations and the initial government response to them

The government has published the long-awaited final report of Charlie Taylor’s review of the youth justice system.

Containing a total of 36 recommendations, the report calls for changes across all areas of the system, from how children are dealt with by police, through to efforts to rehabilitate those who get on the wrong side of the law.

Here, youth justice experts consider findings from the review – and the government response to it – on four key issues.

Secure estate conditions

Taylor recommends behaviour management should be the responsibility of skilful, well-trained education, health and welfare support workers

The government has set aside £15m to boost the numbers of staff on the operational frontline in young offender institutions (YOI) by 20 per cent and will introduce a new youth justice officer role with specialist training

Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns, Howard League for Penal Reform

“While the crisis in the adult estate has gripped the headlines, the plight of children in prisons – where conditions have deteriorated and levels of restraint, violence and self-harm have soared – has largely gone unnoticed.

It is welcome that the government has acknowledged that these problems exist and that they require “urgent” attention. Although this acknowledgement is a huge step forward, the solutions suggested, such as a 20 per cent increase in staffing and improvements in training, are a stopgap solution at best.

There are also lessons to be learnt from adult prisons, where the recent focus on staff recruitment has not transpired into additional boots on the wings, because of problems in retaining staff.

The problem lies in the institutions themselves. Both the so-called YOIs and secure training centres (STCs) are fundamentally failed forms of imprisonment and should be closed.

The number of children in custody has fallen, and that is welcome, but there are still far too many children held needlessly on remand and serving ineffective short-term sentences.

The record high proportion of black and minority ethnic children in custody shames us all and requires urgent attention.

The Taylor review covers many of these overarching issues, but the Ministry of Justice (MoJ)appears to have parked (at best) or ignored (at worst) much of the resulting recommendations.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the fundamental questions are being ducked. Ultimately, the Howard League is clear that the solutions in youth justice lie outside the prison walls.”

Local authority role

Taylor says the government should legislate to remove the requirement for councils to establish a youth offending team (YOT). YOT statutory duties should be transferred to councils

The MoJ has said it will also work with local authorities to explore how local areas can be given greater flexibility to improve youth justice services

Lesley Tregear, chair, Association of YOT Managers

“Youth justice accountability needs to be held at a local level to ensure best results through the local ownership of issues.

We need to build a system which incentivises all organisations within local partnerships to invest in evidence-based prevention measures, including local authorities.

Central guidelines and targets are essential in measuring youth crime and its outcomes, and we must ensure local targets complement these.

Retaining the ringfence around youth justice services is critical to ensure the continued focus on reducing youth crime.

Should youth justice experience further cuts, there is the real danger of rising crime levels and custody costs.

We would be concerned if the response to Taylor’s proposals compromised the statutory multi-agency composition of YOTs that has been at the heart of the excellent performance in safeguarding young people and the community, reducing custody and reoffending by young people.”

Marc Radley, strategic director, children and young people’s services, CACI

“The problems of youth justice begin years before young people end up in custody. If we are to address the root causes, we need to focus much more attention on the whole local system.

The data collected by youth justice services about young people with substantially undiagnosed issues and needs are highly significant for crafting robust prevention and early help.

A particular concern is to more easily implement data and information sharing about young people at risk.

We need to capture context-rich data more simply and, in addition, have local mechanisms to access and pass this around securely.

Further, we need to use the data more actively to get needs identified early and address these with accessible services.

The hope is that we can bring together leaders of grass-roots local services to facilitate more practically minded multi-agency action based on the key principles of the review.”

Secure schools

Taylor calls for a network of “secure schools”, accommodating between 60 and 70 children each, located in regions, should be established, providing children with a bespoke package of support and an education that will address their difficulties and offending behaviour

The government has said it will trial two secure schools, one in the North and one in the South of England

John Drew, former YJB chief executive

“We must not miss the full significance of the government’s decision to develop two secure schools – it is an extraordinary and fundamental announcement.

Most of the secure estate for children will be replaced. Reformers should allow the government time to marshal the investment needed for this, while insisting that this commitment to replace YOIs and STCs is maintained.

The government’s response is light of detail on what the first two secure schools will be like.

Since they plan ‘a process of engagement with potential providers’, I think we can allow a short period of vagueness. But this is a moment to put down some markers from what we have learnt from the past decades of child incarceration.

Secure schools must be small. Taylor’s vision of schools of 60 to 70 places was one of the more cautious of his proposals. Sixty-plus places would be too large.

Secure schools must be local. This will aid resettlement, and maintain and improve contact with family, to whom most children eventually return.

Secure schools should concentrate on building resilience in children.

The government states they should place a strong focus on education and health. It also needs to endorse the third core element identified by Taylor – that schools build resilience.

Secure schools should break the obsession with security that has marked YOIs and STCs, and that has got in the way of resettlement.

The public need adequate protection and children should not abscond.

Most children in custody should move, after careful assessment, in and out of their schools while still serving their sentences.

There is no mention of the role of resettlement consortia in the response.

This contrasts with the glowing references to them in the government’s 2014 policy Transforming Youth Custody.

Every establishment needs to be supported by an active resettlement consortia. As a first step, the decision to withdraw funding to the existing consortia from 2017 should be reversed.”

System governance

Taylor calls for the MoJ to create an Office of the Youth Justice Commissioner, a specific directorate within the department that replaces the Youth Justice Board

He also wants the MoJ to establish a new expert committee that advises and challenges government on its approach to youth justice

Rod Morgan, professor emeritus of criminal justice, University of Bristol

“The incarcerating, punitive, criminal justice excesses of New Labour have been quietly dismantled with huge success.

Taylor’s ‘welfarist’ vision is grounded on that success. It is reminiscent of 1968’s Children inTrouble white paper. It is shocking it has taken nearly half a century to get back to the practical proposition emphasising that youth offenders are first and foremost children with welfare needs.

The problems now are how best to deal with the custodial rump of serious child offenders and the question as to whether the administrative framework for youth justice established by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 is any longer what is needed to embed and take further the advances of the last 10 years.

Aside from the announcement that two ‘secure schools’ will be commissioned, most of what Taylor proposes will be ‘considered’.

Much of what Taylor proposes is difficult and risky. Devolving powers to local authorities risks loss of effective joint working between key services.

But campaigning for Taylor’s principles must now begin: the greater risk is repetition of the fate of Children in Trouble.”

Ross Little, chair, National Association of Youth Justice

“The government response contains a number of references to working with the Youth Justice Board to ‘set clear and robust performance standards’ for youth justice professionals, implying a continued existence of that organisation at least in the short term.

On the other hand, the proposed post of director of youth custodial operations will presumably take over the, not insignificant, responsibilities that the board currently has for the children’s secure estate.

This lack of clarity is concerning.

A continued role for the YJB – or a similar body relatively independent of government – is accordingly essential over the coming period.

Hints within the government’s response that centralised influence is to be exerted through an expansion in payment-by-results is simply not adequate to guarantee that the best interests of children in conflict with the law within a reformed youth justice system are treated as a primary consideration.”

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