The University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) is to create a partnership with youth offending teams (YOTs) aimed at improving understanding and practice on reducing offending.
The UCLan partnership with five YOTs in the North West follows similar initiatives in other parts of the country, as academics and frontline practitioners look to share their experiences and expertise to improve outcomes for vulnerable young people (see box).
Last year, the Youth Justice Board published a working guide offering advice on setting up university and YOT partnerships.
It says partnerships "allow youth justice workers to have access to expert advice and training, while giving academics valuable access to data and providing placement opportunities for their students".
"Partnerships are springing up," says John Wainwright, youth and justice lead at the UCLan Criminal Justice Partnership. "There's a sense among both universities and practitioners of the need to validate and learn from each other to improve children's outcomes.
"The partnership will focus on persistent repeat and serious offenders. It is in these instances that the pooling of practice and research expertise will have a real effect."
The UCLan partnership involves YOTs in Blackburn with Darwen, Blackpool, Cumbria, Lancashire and Liverpool. The university will support each YOT to address their priority areas, while also working on system-wide projects.
"The partnership covers a wide range of areas with significant differences culturally and demographically between them," Wainwright says. "However, there will be regional issues for all YOTs to learn from with best practice guidance developed."
General topics it will cover include restorative justice, responses to "county lines" gang activities and promoting desistance.
Specific projects include support for Lancashire YOT to help young people develop psychological and social techniques when they feel vulnerable or at risk of offending, and helping Blackburn with Darwen YOT to engage with the Pakistani and Muslim community.
The YOTs will also sign a memorandum of understanding on workforce development, student placements and volunteering opportunities.
Gareth Jones, board member for the Association of YOT Managers, says work placements offered through the schemes provide a good opportunity to develop the youth justice workforce of the future.
"It's a good way of growing our own practitioners - and even if they don't come and work for your service, they will still likely go and work somewhere else in the sector," he says.
Through partnerships, Jones says some YOTs are broadening the courses from which they will accept students to undertake placements with them. For example, those on children's mental health, nursing, teaching and health visiting courses could bring rehabilitation-focused perspectives to working with young people, he says.
Three examples of how YOTs and universities are working in partnership
- Developing the workforce has been a feature of the partnership between pan-Cheshire Youth Justice Services and Edge Hill University. Some Edge Hill criminology undergraduates have undertaken placements with Cheshire youth offending service, looking at issues such as the impact of bereavement on young offenders and the application of desistance theory to practice. Youth justice leaders have given lectures and practitioners have attended training, conferences and seminars. "Some of our students and academic staff have facilitated service user involvement," says Sean Creaney, lecturer in psychosocial analysis of offending at Edge Hill. "They have helped recruit young people onto feedback groups, with different interests, ages, abilities and backgrounds, including those who were unable to read and write."
- The Greater Manchester Youth Justice Partnership comprises Manchester Metropolitan University, the Youth Justice Board and 10 YOTs from the area. Established in 2014, it has created an eight-point practice guide for youth offending professionals, and helped reform the out-of-court disposal process, standardising approaches to ensure fairness and prioritise the individual needs of young people. It also ran workshops on desistance to coincide with the implementation of the AssetPlus system - the assessment and planning framework for youth justice. It too has led on youth participation, helping young people to assist development of interventions to manage their own behaviour, and ensuring services are more responsive to their needs.
- The partnership between Northumbria University and Newcastle YOT was formally created in 2011, cementing close working that had been developed over the previous decade. Over that time, 200 students have undertaken placements with the YOT: from social work, geography and social sciences, design and innovation. Part of this activity has involved training criminology students in child protection, safeguarding and youth justice, before working as mentors to young people on community orders. Research projects students have undertaken include the experience of first-time entrants to the justice system, the impact of legal highs, health inequalities and the transition to adult services. Many of these projects have been used as supporting evidence to attract additional funding to the YOT.
- Academic/YOT partnership working guide, Wendy Smith-Yau, Youth Justice Board, March 2017
- Modern youth offending partnerships; guidance on effective youth offending team governance in England, Ministry of Justice, 2013
- Knowledge Transfer Project, Greater Manchester Youth Justice Partnership