Youth justice - Children's Workforce Qualifications and Training Guide

Those wishing to work in youth justice have a number of options.

Roles are available in youth offending teams, the police, courts, Crown Prosecution Service and the secure estate. There are also roles in the Youth Justice Board (YJB), which oversees the system in England and Wales.

In January 2019, the YJB issued its Workforce Development Strategy for 2019 to 2021. "It is clear there is a distinct set of youth justice skills, a well-defined body of knowledge and understanding, including areas such as trauma-informed practice," says YJB senior strategy adviser Ruth Searle, who wrote the document. As part of the strategy, the YJB committed to developing an electronic Youth Justice Workforce Development guide promoting good practice. It also said it would support the upskilling of the workforce in trauma-informed practice, enhanced case management and high-level engagement and intervention skills.

This autumn will see the launch of the Youth Justice Institute, a not-for-profit initiative to provide professional leadership for youth justice workers. The Institute's YJ Learning Hub will offer up to 25 accredited short courses, a range of free resources, training packs and manuals, a list of accredited trainers, and discounted access to existing courses. Regular conferences will build upon those previously organised by the Association of Youth Offending Team Managers (AYM), and will be extended to custodial managers and practitioners. The Institute also plans to establish a voluntary professional practice register, aligned to the Youth Justice Professional Framework and The Youth Justice Skills Matrix.

Key qualifications include the Youth Justice Effective Practice Certificate (YJEPC), with more than 2,000 people successfully completing this distance learning course delivered by Unitas. The YJEPC is accredited by Skills for Justice Awards, endorsed by the YJB and recognised by the University of Suffolk as representing 60 credits towards the Foundation Degree in Youth Justice and BA in Youth Justice. It is also recognised as representing 60 credits towards the new distance learning BA in Criminology being launched by Unitas and the University of Suffolk. The YJEPC is arranged in six learning blocks studied over 30 weeks. Courses start in April and October and cost £750 plus VAT.

The Foundation Degree in Youth Justice is at the heart of the Youth Justice Professional Framework and is based on the key competencies required for work in the youth justice system, which are identified in the Youth Justice Skills Matrix. It is delivered to both community and secure establishments, and consists of four modules taken over two years and two months. Students who already have the YJEPC are exempt from taking the third module, so can achieve a foundation degree in 18 months. The foundation degree is delivered by Unitas and accredited by the University of Suffolk, with two entry points per year in April and October. It costs £4,000 plus VAT or £3,250 plus VAT for those who have the YJEPC. Foundation degree students can now progress onto a BA Honours in Youth Justice by taking top-up modules. Students who already possess a foundation degree in youth justice from the Open University only need to achieve two top-up modules to be awarded a BA Honours in youth justice from the University of Suffolk.

A trailblazer group of Youth Justice employers from community and secure settings is working towards an apprenticeship scheme based on the foundation degree.

Secure estate

Following a recruitment drive launched in April 2018, the number of full-time equivalent staff in the Youth Custody Service has risen by more than 20 per cent. Workforce statistics show 15 per cent of staff are from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background, 43 per cent are female, and 40 per cent are over 40. Youth Custody Service staff have the highest sickness absence among staff working for Her Majesty's Prison and Probation Service.

More than 400 staff, of all grades and disciplines, have enrolled on the youth justice foundation degree. There is funding to provide an additional 125 places every six months. In young offender institutions (YOIs), the new role of youth justice worker specialist takes a therapeutic and rehabilitative approach. The role includes providing emotional support to help young people settle, creating personalised rehabilitation plans to prepare for life upon release, and working with education, health and psychology specialists to promote learning, training and progression. There are currently 17 youth justice specialists in post. A pilot fast-track 15-month training programme is currently in place with 20 applicants taking part. If successful it will be re-run. Applicants required a Level 4 equivalent qualification in a relevant subject, such as youth justice, social work, mental health, teaching or youth work. The salaried programme includes 13 months of training and two months of accreditation.

Leadership development programme Unlocked Graduates is now in two youth prisons - Feltham and Cookham Wood. In 2019, the programme took on 100 graduates to be placed as prison officers across 18 prisons. To be eligible for the fully-funded programme, which includes work towards a Masters degree, graduates must have a 2:1 or above. They receive a salary of up to £30,000. Applicants have an assessment, which includes role play, interview and group exercises. Once provisionally accepted, they must pass a physical test and security clearance. If they are interested in working in the youth estate, there are further interviews looking at the challenges of this sector.

Following an intensive six-week residential, participants are placed in prisons in groups of six to 12. The full programme lasts two years during which they receive 40 days of training and development, which includes mentoring and coaching, lectures and seminars. There is also an opportunity to undertake a work placement in their second year. Last year, placements included the prison minister's office, Koestler Trust and KPMG. Applications are open for the next cohort in mid-September.

The government has introduced multidisciplinary Enhanced Support Teams of health and psychology staff into secure children's homes and secure training centres, with "elements" of the scheme now also in YOIs. Training and qualifications depend on the role, but team members are expected to have a training plan.

Further opportunities will arise with additional specialist support units and the development of two secure schools. Oasis Charitable Trust, which runs 52 Academies across England, will operate the first secure school, which is scheduled to open in late 2020 on the site of Medway Secure Training Centre in Kent. Oasis will decide how it recruits, trains and pays staff.


Youth offending teams (YOTs) comprise practitioners from a wide range of backgrounds with different training needs. The YJB's skills audit tool is designed to help practitioners identify potential gaps in their knowledge and gain access to more targeted training.

Some YOTs take on unqualified workers who work their way up through higher level grades. A qualification in social work is desirable but not essential; graduates with a psychology, criminology or youth work background can also successfully apply for posts. Once employed by a YOT, they undertake youth justice specific in-service training and may get the opportunity to do YJEPC or a youth justice degree.

The AYM runs a leadership development programme in partnership with Solace Enterprises. The target group is operational managers within YOTs, as well as newly appointed heads of service. Five cohorts have completed the programme, with another due to start in September 2019. It is at ILM (Institute of Leadership and Management) Level 5, with a Certificate in Leadership and Management also available. The AYM offers annually an ILM Level 7 Certificate in Leadership and Management for YOT heads of service, also in conjunction with Solace. The next cohort will start in Spring 2020.

In partnership with the Sector Led Improvement Programme funded by the YJB, the AYM also provides training to become a YOT peer reviewer and to lead peer reviews. Once trained and accredited peer reviewers are expected to undertake at least one peer review in the following 18 months.

The AYM has worked with the charity Achievement for All to develop the Youth Justice SEND Quality Mark and the YJ SEND Bubble - a set of online learning resources for YOT staff working with young people with special educational needs and disabilities.

The probation service is going through a period of change, coming back into the public sector after criticism of the performance of the community rehabilitation companies delivering probation services to lower risk offenders. Released prisoners and those serving community sentences will now be monitored by staff from the National Probation Service (NPS) based in 11 new regions. Each area will have a dedicated private or voluntary sector partner, responsible for unpaid work schemes, drug misuse programmes and training courses. NPS officers can work in YOTs on secondment.

To train as a probation officer, applicants need a recognised Level 5 qualification or above in any subject. They also need relevant experience of working with people in crisis and those who display challenging behaviour. Successful applicants will be offered employment as a probation services officer supported through a Level 6 Professional Qualification in Probation (PQiP).

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