Youth justice system 'fails vulnerable girls'

Joe Lepper
Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Youth justice agencies are failing to give vulnerable girls the support they need because services are too geared towards helping boys, a newly formed pressure group has claimed.

The group, called Agenda – Alliance for Women and Girls, is calling for more female-focused services across the youth justice system for girls with complex problems.

It is particularly concerned about an apparent lack of support for girls who have experienced abuse, domestic violence or child sexual exploitation (CSE).

It wants youth offending teams (YOTs) specifically to offer gender-appropriate services.

The call from the new alliance, which is made up of about 70 organisations, comes despite efforts by the Youth Justice Board to improve services for girls.

But Debbie Pippard, head of programmes at the Barrow Cadbury Trust, which is co-funding the alliance, says that “the pace of change is a real concern” and too many YOTs are still failing to act.

“By making quite simple changes, you can improve outcomes," she said. “YOTs should give girls the option of a female officer or case worker, which could help develop empathy.

“We would want to have women-only group sessions so that girls are not competing with boys for attention.

"YOTs also need to look at the issues of abuse and trauma that effect young women.

Among pockets of good practice is Hertfordshire YOT’s girls group, which offers female-specific support covering issues such as peer pressure, relationship problems and alcohol abuse.

The alliance is intending to bring together other examples as a “compelling evidence base to try to speed up the pace of change”.

“There are some good examples of female-focused services in youth justice and excellent practice, but it is patchy and we want that everywhere," Pippard said.

"We want every service to look at what they offer through a gender lens.”

The alliance is also calling for all police forces and children’s services to offer robust support to victims of child sexual exploitation.

The group, which is chaired by Baroness Young, plans to publish a manifesto with specific reforms it would like to see at both local and central government level within the next six months.

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