- Young people in Sutton are placed on referral orders to help address offending behaviour early
- The young person on a referral order is reviewed by a voluntary panel of community members every three months to look at their progress
- Inspectorate has recently praised a number of aspects of Sutton YOT's work on the use of referral orders
The work of Sutton Youth Offending Team (YOT) was praised recently in a report by HM Inspectorate of Probation for its use of referral orders. The inspectorate said the London borough's YOT was an example of "notable practice" in a variety of areas including its needs assessments, monitoring of young people's views, and recording panel meetings.
The YOT uses referral orders more than any other community sentence for the 10- to 17-year-olds it works with.
HMI Probation says the order - which is usually the first community sentence given in response to young people offending - provides an opportunity to help young people cease their behaviour before it becomes entrenched and they have been shown to be consistently more effective than other sentences.
Data shows that in the year to March 2015, courts issued 12,039 referral orders to young people in England and Wales, which accounted for almost 48 per cent of new court disposals received to YOTs.
Angela Killalea, operations manager at Sutton YOT, says a referral order can last anywhere between three and 12 months, and it is currently managing 21 young people on one.
Once a young person with a referral order is passed on by the courts to Sutton YOT, an initial assessment will be carried out by an education officer to determine what their learning strengths are and how support can be tailored around these.
They will then attend a panel meeting, which is led by voluntary members of the community, who will talk with the young offender about the offence they have committed, who it has affected and how they can make amends.
Melissa Garner, restorative justice co-ordinator at Sutton YOT, says that a contract will then be drawn up, which looks at the problem the young person needs to address, risk factors in their life that could prevent intervention work from succeeding, strengths and protective factors, and work the young person has to carry out.
The work that the YOT does with the young person can vary depending on their offence. Killalea explains that a young person who has an offence for carrying a knife may do a knife crime programme, while a young person with a motoring offence may do a motor vehicle awareness programme.
"We also offer interventions that focus on areas such as substance misuse, mental health conditions, victim awareness work, and speech, language and communication problems," Killalea says.
She explains that every young person is assigned a social worker, who is the case manager and has oversight, but the YOT also has specialist workers who support the young people on their interventions. These include education workers, a restorative justice co-ordinator, reparation victim worker, speech and language therapist - who is seconded from the local health service - and a police officer.
The panel will also decide how the young offender can give back to the community and be forgiven for their harm. Killalea says that if feedback has been gathered from the victim prior to the meeting, they will try to incorporate that into the contract.
This could include volunteering at a project asked for by the victim or direct work with a victim working towards a face-to-face meeting. If no feedback is given then the YOT and the panel will look to assign the young offender to a community-based project, with the hours set by the panel.
Killalea adds: "Later on down the line it can be changed if needed but if they are assigned to a project then they meet with the reparation worker who looks at their needs and what they are suited to.
"It is getting the young person to give back but also gain as we are working towards an Open Awards qualification via their reparation."
The young person's progress is reviewed by the panel every three months to see if they are struggling with any element and changes need to be made. Targets that are reviewed include looking at how many reparation hours have been completed and how intervention work is going. The panel also talks with the young person about what they have learned from their intervention and reparation work.
If an offender is progressing well and the panel can see they have completed their contract, they can be sent back to court to get the order revoked.
Garner adds: "If they reoffend while subject to a referral order they can get extensions. But with a referral order there are a lot of ways to work it to get the best possible outcomes for a young person."
Ministry of Justice and Youth Justice Board annual statistics show a total of 46 referral orders were completed by young people in Sutton between 2014 and 2015. Of these, 13 young people were aged 10 to 14, eight were 15, 13 were 16, and 12 were 17.
In the entire London area, Sutton made up two per cent of referral orders in 2014/15.
HM Inspectorate of Probation particularly praised the YOT's assessment clinic work.
"Sutton held an assessment clinic on the same day as their youth court [and] young people and their parents/carers were instructed to attend the YOT immediately after their court appearance," the report said.
"This was convenient for most parents/carers as they had already booked the day off work."
The inspectorate's report also highlights how the YOT responds to young people's views raised at panel meetings.
"Comments included issues around understanding of the contracts and orders," says the report. "Work to respond to this included development of a more appropriate leaflet and a speech and language therapist was looking at how to improve presentation of contracts."
This practice example is part of CYP Now's special report on preventing youth offending. Click here for more