Academic and practitioner project set to revolutionise youth justice

Sean Creaney
Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Some practitioners have been suspicious of researcher activity. At times they don't see the benefit of supporting research projects with their time and energy or know how to use the findings or outcomes. However, I had the privilege of meeting with Anna-Christina Jones this week. Anna is leading the groundbreaking academic/practitioner youth justice Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP).

The project is the first of its kind. It is run by The Greater Manchester Youth Justice University Partnership (GMYJUP) and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Economic and Social Research Council and the Greater Manchester Youth Justice Services. Stakeholders include Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) the Youth Justice Board and all 10 youth offending services across Greater Manchester. A leading role is taken by Positive Steps, the not-for-profit organisation who run the youth justice service in Oldham.

The forward thinking GMYJUP - of which the KTP project is a part - strives to develop an innovative knowledge exchange between the stakeholders, through youth justice practitioners contributing to teaching at MMU and by utilising academics, research experience to improve evidence-based practice in youth offending services. For example, recently Graham Smyth, senior lecturer in sociology at MMU, delivered desistance workshops to youth offending teams across Greater Manchester alongside practitioners from the regions - as Anna said this was very well received by staff, and timely, especially with the roll-out of the new and improved Asset Plus assessment tool.

But the KTP project takes GMYJUP's work one step further. The two-year project's specific overarching themes include: a move away from "one-size-fits-all" to developing personalised approaches, creating digital methods of engagement, meaningful ways of measuring outcomes, embedding desistance theory in youth justice practice, and a move to a positive direction and enhancing young people's participation. Because the project champions a unique synergy between academia and practice, it has the potential to revolutionise the youth justice service across Greater Manchester.

Working with Anna on the academic side of the project is Dr Hannah Smithson, reader in criminology at MMU and Graham Smyth, senior lecturer in sociology. Paul Axon, director of targeted services at Positive Steps, leads the practitioner input, although the project benefits from enthusiastic involvement from practitioners and management across all 10 boroughs of Greater Manchester.

Greater meaningful participation and "buy in" - as key themes of the project - is welcomed not least when we consider the results of the recent HMI Probation report on referral orders. The report described practice as being too tokenistic: young people felt they had little control over the decision-making process and at times that work was done "to" or "for" rather than decided or agreed "with" them.

Sean Creaney is an advisor at social justice charity Peer Power

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