How youth offending teams are protecting the public

Sean Creaney
Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The HMI probation report on the work of youth offending teams to protect the public highlighted the importance of trauma-informed approaches with those subject to court orders in the youth justice system. The report found that children tended to have experienced distressing or disturbing events. Crucially, it acknowledges that if adverse childhood experiences (ACE) are not properly acknowledged, young people will be less likely to engage in supervision. Indeed in order to maximise compliance, such underlying issues need to be addressed before any offending behaviour work can take place.

With the vast majority diverted out of the formal system, the proportion of children with complex needs on Youth Offending Team (YOT) orders has increased. Indeed, those on court orders tend to live chaotic lives experience speech, language communication difficulties for example and require intense support. Indeed YOTs can experience difficulty ensuring children comply with requirements when they are presenting with such backgrounds.

Due to limited resources, it can be difficult for children to access or receive appropriate support. YOTs must now be provided with additional resources when supporting children with symptoms of trauma. However, in order for Enhanced Case Management or Trauma Recovery type models to be implemented, YOTs need extra funding from the Youth Justice Board and local partners. Crucially, reductions in core funding has not only had an impact on the availability of resources but also continuity of staff.

Desistance focused approaches include establishing trusting/caring relationships and doing 'with' children - meaningful as opposed to tokenistic interventions. It also involves promoting pro-social behaviour and a ‘good life'. Inspectors complemented YOTs on the application of desistance principles to practice. It was also noted that YOTs are working well not only in terms of preventing offending but to reduce frequency and severity.

The inspectors noted that "assessments would be more effective still if they better reflected the views of young people gained through the self-assessment process". Although promoting participatory practices in a risk-focused context is a challenge, children have the right to be meaningfully involved in assessment, intervention, planning, supervision, and evaluation. Failing to include service user voices in AssetPlus can result in children feeling frustrated. They may then withdraw from the process, not feeling their involvement is useful, mistrusting the intentions of practitioners.

The inspectors found that workers described their "caseloads as manageable, with good levels of contact time with young people". However, although AssetPlus is an improvement in that it offers a more thorough or in-depth assessment, it has meant that staff are spending more time in front of a computer screen. This creates barriers to service user involvement, and can hinder the process of desistance.

Sean Creaney is an advisor at social justice charity Peer Power

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