- Dialectical behaviour approach treats the underlying issues of repeat offenders
- Youth offending service has gone from failing to one of the best performers for reducing reoffending
A two-pronged approach focused on prevention and therapeutic intervention has seen criminal entrance and reoffending rates reduce since Doncaster Children's Services Trust took control of the Youth Offending Service (YOS) in 2015. Three years ago, Doncaster had the second highest rate of young people entering the criminal justice system in England.
Head of service Andy Hood explains how the strategy came about: "More children than necessary were entering the system. The majority were not going on to lead consistently offence-free lifestyles and the judiciary in the area was heavily custody focused, partly because of the high numbers of young people in the system.
"Our first approach was to get the first-time entrants' rate down so we had fewer children in the system, and then we restructured the offer so those who were got the therapeutic interventions they needed."
The trust entered into a county-wide triage process with South Yorkshire Police. At the point of being charged, first-time offenders are assessed by a triage panel for their suitability for the EPIC (Encouraging Potential, Inspiring Change) prevention service.
Hood says: "Prevention, as it's quite often delivered in the UK, is about exposing young people to offending behaviour programmes or taking them to prisons. For us, it was to get young people involved and engaged in their communities, to be aspirational, and to brand this as an opportunity not a punishment."
Street-based teams were deployed into areas with high levels of antisocial behaviour and youth crime to tackle the problem at source. While this approach of community-based intervention is not new, the tactics employed were.
Hood says: "The trust chief executive asked us how we could have an impact in communities before young people got into the criminal justice system. We knew we needed something totally different and we came up with the idea of Zorb football. We went into these communities and started playing games inside the areas where young people were congregating and they came to us.
"We stay in these areas for six months, working with businesses and schools. We try to ensure that young people feel part of their community again when we leave, because that's key in addressing first-time entrants."
Tackling the problem at source has not only led to a reduction in the number of first-time offenders, it has also enabled the trust to restructure its offer for those young people in the system. The YOS is now a dialectical behaviour informed service. A multi-disciplinary team, led by a forensic psychologist, reviews a young person's history to try to understand the underlying issues. These, says Hood, "almost uniformly involve trauma". The team treats these issues, not the behaviour itself.
Hood adds: "In a traditional YOS, if someone's stolen a car, you put them on a car crime programme - we don't do any of that. We try to treat that young person to ensure they get the therapeutic help they need to stop them offending in future."
The trust has developed partnerships - for example, trainee forensic psychologists at Nottingham Trent University have trained staff in dialectical behaviour therapy and trauma-informed practices while on placement with the service as part of their doctorate.
Being a "lean" organisation, focused on improving outcomes, enables the trust to react quickly to issues, which encourages innovation, explains Hood.
"We have a lot more access to the board, to senior management, to pitch new ideas," he says. "They are very supportive about allowing us to undertake these new ways of working and staff are then invested because they see an opportunity to get those ideas into practice."
The rate of 10- to 17-year-olds entering the system fell from 634 per 100,000 in 2014/15 to 321 in 2016/17 and continues to fall - the latest figure is 221 per 100,000. In one area, the deployment of street-based teams saw youth-led anti-social behaviour reduce by 38 per cent and offences of criminal damage by 34 per cent.
According to Youth Justice Board reoffending data, Doncaster was the 10th best performer in the UK in 2017.
Hood says: "When the first-time entrants' rate goes down, you expect the reoffending rate to go up and we bucked that trend. Because the strategy worked, custody levels have gone down as well."
The YOS has gone from being rated "inadequate" in 2015 to "good" now.