After two days at the Youth Justice Convention held at the end of last year, you’d be hard pushed to find anyone who left feeling less optimistic than when they walked in.
Although I’ve been working in youth offending teams for some seven years, it was my first time attending the Convention and there was much food for thought. As a senior performance analyst, I’m responsible not only for reporting on performance data, such as key indicators on reoffending, but also for quality assurance, which takes me beyond the statistics and into the detail of individual cases to examine our practices.
What struck me in particular at the Convention was the vast input from young people – the likes of which we work with every day. Two of the hosts giving opening comments were university students with a history of custodial sentences, time in care, and with experience of the broad range of issues practitioners are faced with on a daily basis. It’s always nice to start with a success story and we would learn more about these young people over the next two days.
This year’s Convention helped to mark 15 years of the Youth Justice Board and Youth Offending Teams, and in that time we’ve all achieved record low numbers of first time entrants to the system and young people in custody. The Rt Hon. Lord McNally reminded us of these successes, and also of the challenges we all face in the current economic climate. Nonetheless the room was full of people determined to effect positive changes for young people, no matter how challenging that can sometimes be.
Diverting young people away from the system
I found myself immediately drawn to the debate on diversion activities - as a pioneering area for the Triage programme back in 2009, it was refreshing to see other areas picking up on this work as well. All who attended that discussion agreed that diverting young people away from the system was the best solution where possible - and where agencies work together to provide a coordinated approach the successes were tangible. It’s increasingly important to prove the cost benefit of that work alongside the social benefit to the community – something Leicestershire have done and we hope to replicate in Southend.
The journey of the child theme continued with debates on the sometimes conflicting aims of justice versus rehabilitation, including an interesting perspective given by one of the co-chairs of the event who had herself spent time in custody. Custody presents an often punitive consequence for young people, but in some cases can be more stable than their life in the community, and can provide an opportunity to be away from negative influences long enough to make a commitment to long term change. However, how effective the rehabilitation is depends on a well thought out and structured resettlement back into the community.
Addressing the imbalance of looked-after children in youth justice
Day 2 saw a focus on looked after children and their over-representation in the secure estate, and the results of the Laming Review will hopefully shed some light on what the system can do to address this imbalance. Custody presents a very difficult environment for young people to say the least. Investments in staff and unit quality, and encouraging reconciliation after incidents were seen as possible solutions, as well as working in the community to prevent conflict transferring into custody and vice versa.
A breakout event relating to AssetPlus was one of the most heavily attended sessions as this presents one of the biggest challenges to Youth Offending Teams now and in the near future. As a Capita One user, Southend YOS are due to start using AssetPlus in Autumn 2016 and hearing the experiences of teams who have already gone through the transition was invaluable. We are looking forward to working closely with Capita and the YJB on this change.
Ensuring young people are supported through transition
Day 2 ended with a focus on transitions, particularly moving from the youth system into adult services. The experiences of the young people who had gone through that transition suggested that this isn’t something that we always get right, and for them it was only the consistent support of an adult (YOT worker or parent) that helped them overcome the difficulties they had faced. However this isn’t something that can be replicated for every young person, meaning a better focus on providing a smooth transition to adulthood must be the focus, instead of the cliff-edge that many face.
I took the opportunity at the Convention to catch up with other local authorities to discuss the future of youth offending teams. It was fascinating to hear how YOTs are changing – whether it’s as part of the local authority or as an outsourced service in an external agency. There were several local authorities who had taken the same route as us in Southend to integrate the YOT with other youth services, such as drugs and alcohol, careers and troubled families services.
Continuing to support young people to the best possible outcomes
Whilst the Convention provided plenty of food for thought on the various topics discussed, it was really the stories of the young people who attended that provided the greatest insight into what we do well and what we can improve on. They showed that when we get things right, we can help young people move on from lives of hardship and crime, and into work, higher education and success. From the co-chairs of the event, to the young people who contributed arts-based presentations, and the clients of the local youth offending team who helped with some of the logistics, this was an event to celebrate their successes.