The youth justice system has seen sweeping reforms during the past four years. The Youth Justice Board was set up in 2000 and youth offending teams began to be rolled out. New community-based sentences were introduced.
With a major shift in emphasis away from containment and retribution to crime prevention, especially preventing re-offending, one of the effects was supposed to be a reduction in the youth prison population.
Yet press reports of poor conditions for juvenile offenders in Holloway women's prison last week, and the week before at the Ashfield Young Offender Institution in the West Country, have yet again focused national attention on Britain's propensity to lock up young people. With the under-18 prison population now around 2,900, that is more than twice as many as 10 years ago.
Yet for Lord Warner, the man charged with implementing the reforms as chairman of the Youth Justice Board, a much better measure of whether the system is working is a Home Office report that showed a 15 per cent reduction in reoffending by people who had been through the youth justice system in 2001 compared with four years previously.
"This shows the reforms are working," says Warner, who, in a previous job as policy adviser to the Home Secretary, was one of the architects of the new system. "And the main reason is the increased programme content around sentences. Somebody actually engages with each kid now and does something with them to address their needs."
The star of the show, as far as Warner is concerned, is the intensive supervision and surveillance programme (ISSP), a form of community sentencing that restricts freedom through tagging and curfews, combined with reparation to victims and intensive input from professionals. "One of the great things about ISSPs is their immediacy," says Warner. "The intervention starts the day after sentencing."
And all this is beginning to have an effect on the youth prison population.
A detailed look at the figures shows that the number of under-18s in custody started falling significantly from last October. However, they are still not below where they were before a dramatic rise last summer prompted by the Government's street crime initiative and a panic over mobile phone thefts.
But Warner believes the past few months have seen a significant shift in attitude by magistrates. A key to this has been persuading them that the intensive supervision orders are not a soft option.
"We have shown that tagging and curfews can curtail liberty and that it is possible to provide robust programme content far more easily in the community than in custody," says Warner. "We have also placed a lot of emphasis on youth offending teams meeting regularly with youth court benches to give feedback on the results of sentences."
Warner expects the youth prison population to continue to go down as magistrates use ISSPs in place of custody.
Another significant aspect of the board's crime prevention remit is its work on reaching young people before they fall into serious crime. And here Warner is looking for a significant expansion of the youth inclusion programmes from 70 to cover all 400 of the areas regarded as high-crime neighbourhoods during the next four years, as well as of the Splash school holiday activity schemes.
"Youth workers have been an essential part of those, especially in using their skills to persuade the most difficult kids to participate," he says.
But Warner is scornful of youth workers who are suspicious of being tainted with a crime prevention agenda or who resist the idea that they might become agents of social control.
"If you have large numbers of kids with high levels of social needs, you can either be precious about it or roll up your sleeves and do something."
FYI - Norman Warner was senior policy adviser to Jack Straw when he was Home Secretary, and chair of the Youth Justice Task Force - There were 2,890 under-18s in prison in January, down from a peak of 3,175 in October. But in March 1999, the figure was just 2,550. Young People Now 26/02/03 OPINION: The Ferret... digs behind the headlines Two weeks ago, The Observer magazine highlighted the latest findings of a Government survey on young people and diet. Young men, actually. It posed the question: what percentage of young men aged 19 to 24 eat the Government's recommended five portions of fruit or vegetables a day? Expecting a low answer? Wait for it. The answer is zero. Nil. Nought. Zilch. According to research for the department of health, there are no young men in that age group eating the Government's recommended number of portions. This is an amazing statistic. Really, none? There is not one late-teens or early twenties food lover, veggie-fan or fruit-bat who reaches the guidelines? Extraordinary. So extraordinary, it is worth checking. A quick scan through the relevant report, HSE 2001 - fruit and vegetable consumption: a survey carried out on behalf of the Department of Health, reports, quite clearly with a graph to prove it, that 14 per cent of men aged 16-24 said they had eaten five or more portions. This is quite a bit more than none. And quite a lot less dramatic and impressive. The point about this is not that journalists make mistakes. Happens all the time. But it highlights the willingness of readers and editors to believe absurd things about young people. How many will have read that figure, taken it on face value, perhaps smiled, and then stored it away as part of the clutter in the attic of their minds? It is clearly ridiculous. But it affects how people perceive young people. And when perceptions are built on rubbish, the results are not sound. Boredom is the main reason young people lose interest in school, according to David Miliband, school standards minister. He told a conference on business links with education that: "Boredom is the recruiting sergeant for disaffection, truancy and bad behaviour." Plenty of people will salute that. But how fascinating does he think most jobs are? Does he have any evidence that work, especially mundane or repetitive work, is intrinsically more interesting than well-delivered education? Rather than talking to business, the minister might be better employed talking to young people. He should ask them why they are bored, what they would prefer to do and how they would prefer to be treated. Far more interesting for him. If he listens, far more useful for them. Young People Now 26/02/03 HOT ISSUE: Is it right to involve young people in political demos? The Woodcraft Folk were prominent at last week's anti-war rally in London. Many other groups, however, were less certain about whether this is political education or exploitation YES - Andy Piercy, general secretary of the Woodcraft Folk It is right if it is part of your educational programme to involve young people in political demonstrations. Our approach to issues is education and democratic participation, depending on what our members want to do. We're currently running a baby milk campaign where group members are boycotting Nestle products in protest about the company's lack of adherence to the World Health Organisation's guidelines on the marketing of baby milk. We also link with fair trade issues that young people have discussed, and we encourage them to support it by providing educational materials. We don't say "you must" do this, but we have a conference where they will debate the issue as a group, which will then abide by the decision made. But the ideas must come from the young people themselves and the democracy we encourage is a bottom-up process. It can be argued that they should not have views imposed on them, but the other side of the coin is that they should be exposed to different viewpoints so that they are able to make up their own minds. As for the safety aspect of going on a march, it's no more dangerous than a football match: it's a question of being sensible. NO - Colin Groves, national director, National Association of Clubs for Young People I have no strong views on this, as it is up to the individual. It would be wrong for youth workers to impose their views on young people or take them on marches or demonstrations if the young people themselves did not want to go. A very young age group might find it difficult to grasp the full effects of a political situation and get unduly influenced by others, but lots of kids are naturally more articulate and do develop political views early so it is very much an individual choice. However, if the protest was done with both sides of the argument discussed, then it would be more constructive and would help them to make up their own mind about their involvement in the issue. As for the safety aspect of marches, as with any activity you need to do a risk assessment when dealing with young people and make sure that there is adequate supervision and sensible judgment. NO - John Fogg, director of communications, The Scout Association As far as our association is concerned, we do not take our people on marches of protest. It is up to individuals to express their view. Scouting is not an organisation that would seek to make people participate in political demonstrations. However, we would encourage young people to take part in the democratic process itself by thinking through the issues and put across their point of view in whatever method they thought appropriate. As an organisation, we would get involved in political lobbying if a government policy directly affected our business but we would not expect our members to get involved. It would not be appropriate, as political lobbying is not what they came to the scouts to do. YES - Arthur Brown, youth work and ministry course leader, Oasis Trust From a personal point of view, I did attend the Stop the War peace march and I took my six-month-old daughter with me. From a youth work perspective, I believe good quality youth work includes social and political education by engaging young people in issues surrounding a topic. This enables them to participate and have a voice. My philosophical view is that it is okay for young people to go on marches as there are not that many opportunities for them to have a voice. Young people can be hugely politically minded and have made many advances for society in the past. However, when it comes to taking them on peace marches, you need to ensure there are appropriate procedures for taking other people's children to a march, such as the right ratio of workers to young people and adequate supervision. Young People Now 26/02/03 OPINION: Editorial - Voluntary Organisations are Valuable Stovin Hayter, editor, Young People Now So Ofsted has said that £12m of funding given under the voluntary youth organisations grant scheme was money well spent (see Analysis, p7). This will come as no surprise to anybody who is aware of a wide-ranging review the Treasury and the Cabinet Office have carried out over the past few years. The aim was to gauge the value of voluntary organisations to public services. The answer turned out to be that they are very valuable indeed. Voluntary organisations have access to expertise, trained staff and dedicated volunteers. They are a breeding ground for innovation. They can reach grassroots communities and special groups in ways that mainstream statutory services have trouble doing. Historically, services developed in the voluntary sector have made their way into the mainstream. This is the case with many things now taken for granted as part of the NHS. The Government wants the voluntary sector to play a bigger role, especially in its current project to reform public services. It has made £125m available to help the sector "build capacity" in order for it to play the kind of role the Government would like to see it playing in the strengthening of civil society. It has also initiated reforms of charity law and regulation. So Ofsted's report fits well with the wider context. Voluntary youth organisations and community groups can be a valuable partner to the Government. Local authorities, especially, should view partnership with voluntary youth organisations as an opportunity to develop their services, and not just to fill a few hard-to-plug gaps. But there are also pitfalls for voluntary groups to guard against. One of these is being pushed into the role of a mere subcontractor. The Government's various reviews placed great value on the role voluntary organisations can play in formulating policy and designing services, as well as delivering them. Another pitfall, as Fairbridge's Tamara Wilder rightly points out (see p7), is a loss of independence. The more money you take from the State the more you become accountable to it. One of the most valuable roles that voluntary organisations can play is that of conscience: to point out when things are wrong or unjust and to campaign for change. That can be difficult when what you need to change is also the source of most of your funding. Young People Now 26/02/03 OPINION: Targets do not always hit the mark Howard Williamson It is sometimes observed facetiously that the definition of a target is "whatever you hit". The trouble is there is not much room for flippancy in the tough public sector context of targets, targets, targets. The Government quietly (or as quietly as possible) drops a range of targets it has failed to meet. Clare Short tells the public administration committee that there are too many targets and she was minded to set low targets so they would be achieved. Yet more targets continue to be set. The Youth Justice Board wants 90 per cent of young people in custody to receive at least 30 hours of education a week. The youth service in England has just signed up to a target of 60 per cent of the target population (itself a target of 25 per cent of the youth population) undergoing personal and social development that results in an accredited outcome. Both of these are laudable aspirations, and something we should work towards (to a level of 100 per cent). But to hang judgments of professional effectiveness (and subsequent funding decisions) on them is absurd, especially so when skills, capacity and resources are so far away from any mark where they are likely to be achieved. Nonetheless, I do not have any problem with judgment on the basis of targets that are realistic and can be achieved. But there are two fundamental flaws in the obsession with targets. The first is that, where targets are patently unrealistic, they engender what has come to be called "perverse behaviour". Professionals find and work with the groups most likely to help them reach the target. This leaves the primary objectives of our attention (those most in need and most excluded) out in the cold. We do not work with them because they will take too much time to achieve success. The youth training target of NVQ level 2 is the classic case in point: it produced much of the social exclusion with which we are preoccupied. The second issue is captured well in the Welsh youth policy document Extending Entitlement. Hidden away in the original text is the sentence: "The quality of opportunity extended to young people is sometimes more important than the specificity of outcome." Sometimes, not always. But it is a pertinent sentence for youth work, where we can rarely be sure what young people will do with their experiences, but we can be reasonably confident it will be a good thing if organised appropriately. Politicians and funders need to learn patience. Working with young people at the sharp end takes time, sensitivity and a style that does not lend itself to quick fixes. We should aspire to positive outcomes and establish processes to achieve them, but the insistence on rigid targets does not always assist that cause. Howard Williamson is involved in research, policy and practice with young people. He is a member of the Youth Justice Board. firstname.lastname@example.org. Young People Now 26/02/03 HERITAGE: How Did I Get Here? Tom De Castella Youth Work Week in November focuses on engaging young people in the history of their communities. Tom de Castella finds out how projects can tap in to £20m of Young Roots funding A film starring Steve Coogan as Mancunian record label boss Tony Wilson - the man who launched New Order, the Hacienda Club and to a large extent acid house music - is not everyone's idea of heritage. But Andrew Kelly, who will be responsible for co-ordinating a heritage-based youth project across two regions of northern England, wants to challenge traditional ideas of local history. Recently appointed to the Young Roots scheme in the Northwest and Yorkshire and Humber regions, he takes inspiration from unlikely quarters. He says: "The other day, I saw 24 Hour Party People, a fantastic film, and I just thought that for someone who is in their thirties, that music scene is crucial, it's historic. It is feasible that a Young Roots project in Manchester could look at how that scene came about. And punk would be interesting to look at as well. We need to challenge what people think of as heritage." Kelly should know. Yorkshire and Humberside is the area where Young Roots was piloted, a trial that has persuaded the Heritage Lottery Fund to roll it out across the UK this autumn as a £20 million, five-year programme. It will support up to 300 projects a year involving 13 to 20-year-olds, and grants are available for between £5,000 and £25,000. The scheme was first suggested by fund officials who were concerned that most young people were neither interested nor involved in their heritage. The idea is that the programme will improve young people's knowledge of their community's past, encouraging them to see their own roots in the area, and help the fund to involve hard-to-reach teenagers. Kelly has only just taken over at the fund's Yorkshire and Humber office, having being seconded from The National Youth Agency. But already he has seen enough of the pilots to whet his appetite for the roll-out. "Heritage is a really new way of looking at youth work in terms of 'how did I get here?' and 'what are the things that have shaped the way I live my life now?'," he says. And the benefits can be dramatic: "Once you understand the community you live in and its values, you have a much clearer idea of where you are going. I think it also gives kids a good opportunity to have a voice and be listened to, for a change." Navdeep Kandula, a film maker who runs Migrations, a pilot scheme targeting mainly Asian youngsters in Kirklees, West Yorkshire, agrees: "People still have this old befuddled image of heritage as being about stately homes, but that's not really what it's about." Migrations has helped young people to look at one of the negative aspects of the area's heritage: racial stereotyping. And in the course of the project, the young people learned interviewing techniques, camera skills and editing. The fruits of their labours will soon be available through a documentary film of their interviews, and Kandula is looking to apply for Young Roots funding to secure a second phase of the project. A project in Huddersfield celebrated the town's African-Caribbean heritage, in the form of six radio features that were broadcast on local station Creative FM. Huddersfield's African-Caribbean Heritage project received a grant of £23,000 from Young Roots to enable young people to talk to the older members of the black community about how they came to live in Britain and what the first years were like. It also gave them a chance to trace the history of the area's black music. Jackie Christie, the project's radio tutor, said: "Huddersfield has the largest African-Caribbean population in West Yorkshire and there's a strong record of activism here, including the setting up of black trade unions. The children hadn't spoken to the older people so it was fresh to their ears. They gained a new respect for those pioneers." Christie worked at the BBC for 10 years before getting into radio training. She says the young people had no fears about the technology. "They weren't phased by walking into a recording studio," she explains. "But getting them to listen to other people and do the right recordings was another matter. They were very confident and sometimes that could be a problem. For the most part, though, they knuckled down and did very well." Jeni Vine, who ran the scheme, says that involving young people in technology is crucial: "It's far easier to interest young people in using technology than heritage. Some of them had a lot of attitude. But by using the internet and focusing on music and radio, we managed to attract people who aren't the bookworms at school." The courses took place at evenings, weekends, half-term and school holidays, and attendance could sometimes be a problem, admits Vine. But by running three-day intensive courses in the holidays, they managed to get most of the young people motivated, she says. Miriam Jackson, who co-ordinated the pilot lottery-funded projects, says staffing is crucial. One scheme, the Calder and Hebble Heritage Project (see panel), nearly folded due to staff changes at the Probation Office, but went on to win plaudits for the way it combined heritage with conservation. Jackson says: "Over the duration of the projects, staffing often changed and that could be a major blow. A lot of the projects are down to a leader's great idea and they would engage the young people with that idea. But if they leave, the idea can go with them." More lessons for the national roll-out will be learned when an independent evaluation report on the pilots is published in the coming weeks. But with the first deadline approaching, people need to get their bids in soon (see box). For those seeking inspiration from Yorkshire's success, Kelly has some no-nonsense advice. "Don't just apply thinking you are going to get money for the project you're currently running," he says. "It needs to be a stand-alone heritage project. Do make sure that young people are consulted, and do be incredibly creative about what you are going to do. "Do promote equal opportunites and be socially inclusive. Do approach your Young Roots co-ordinator with your idea before writing the bid. And do make the outcome of the project inclusive. So, for example, if young people are putting on an exhibition, you need to look at how you can make that accessible to as many people as possible." Already there have been exciting enquiries for the roll out, adds Kelly. A "major football team" wants to run a project looking at the club's heritage, while a scheme in Cumbria wants to use the foot-and-mouth outbreak as a starting point to examine the area's farming traditions. And with National Youth Work Week in November focusing on "Your roots, your community", the incentive to embrace Young Roots is greater than ever. HOW TO APPLY Application forms are available from the Heritage Lottery Fund (020 7591 6042). Before filling it out, seek advice from your regional Young Roots co-ordinator, who can be contacted on the HLF number above. To qualify for funding, your bid must: focus on young people aged between 13 and 20, involve learning about heritage, include a heritage partner (organisation), promote social inclusion and last up to 18 months. Your grant request must be for between £5,000 and £25,000. The first deadline for applications is 1 April and the second is 1 September. These dates will be the same each year for the five-year duration of the scheme. You should send in your application form well before the cut-off date, in case there is any information missing. A decision should be made within three months of the deadline. CASE STUDY Calder and Hebble Project helps the environment The Calder and Hebble Heritage Project has given young people in Batley, North Yorkshire, the chance to learn about the history of the Calder and Hebble canal and to improve the area's environment. A £24,000 grant from Young Roots has allowed the charity Environment Concern to work with children from the Westborough High School who are academically underachieving. Bill Guinan, joint chief executive of the charity, says that the young people have looked at the changing use of the canal from its industrial heyday to the leisure function it performs today. They have also cleared rubbish from the banks, repaired paths, built a dry stone wall, carried out a survey of plants and trees, and tested soil and water quality. Guinan praised the young people for their dedication and thanked the local school and landowner British Waterways for their co-operation. The young people themselves are proud of their achievements. Faye Robinson, 13, says: "We have been cutting back trees and putting benches up, and it's a better place for people who want to walk their dogs now. People have told us that we are doing a good job and that makes us feel happy. We have found out about the history of the old bridge, and the other day I saw a heron and they are very rare." David Cockroft, 11, liked the outdoor nature of the project. "It's better to get outdoors and do something instead of sitting at home playing computer games," he says. "We've cut some of the nettles back to make the path bigger and I've learned to use different equipment." Young People Now 26/02/03 YOUNG CARERS: The Burden of Care Steve Beebee Young carers face many challenges on top of the normal growing pains of teenagers. Steve Beebee finds out how the Young Carers Initiative aims to help them Imagine yourself once again in the shoes of a 16-year-old, with all the pressures and anxieties that any young person on the threshold of adulthood encounters. Now imagine you are also caring for a parent or relative who is ill and unable to look after themselves. Before you leave for school in the morning, and as soon as you get home in the afternoon, your role changes from pupil to carer. You might have to change your loved one's sheets, bathe or feed him or her, or fulfil any of a multitude of tasks. Having a normal social circle seems like an impossible dream. The trials that young carers face are amply illustrated by the comments of one 17-year-old young woman whose mother has a distressing mental illness. "Last year my mum was really bad," she says. "She used to sit in a dark room and just cry. I'd try to help, but when I said something, she'd swear at me and tell me to get lost. I couldn't do anything and she'd just be crying. I could hear her upstairs saying really weird things, and I just had to keep telling myself, 'this