Children diverted from prosecution face postcode lottery

Youth offending services are providing inconsistent supervision and support to children and young people who have committed minor offences.

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Last week the probation inspectorate published a summary of its last round of inspections of the public and private probation services. Today it has published an annual report rounding up the findings from its inspections of 26 youth offending services over the last 12 months.

Inspectors found youth offending services are providing inconsistent supervision and support to children and young people who have committed minor offences. In cases involving a low-level offence, youth offending services can take steps to divert children and young people away from the formal justice system. This can be a positive outcome for the young person and can benefit the public, as they are encouraged to take steps to apologise for their offence and make some form of reparation to the victim or wider community.

However, inspectors saw significant variation in the way police and youth offending teams decide whether a young person should receive an out-of-court disposal or be charged with an offence and dealt with by a youth court.

Chief Inspector Justin Russell said: 

“Some services were too punitive, while others were too lenient or too inconsistent. This has led to a postcode lottery, where young people face different outcomes depending on where they live. We need national guidance on this issue to ensure young people dealt with through out-of-court disposals receive more consistent supervision and support.” 

Over the past year, the Inspectorate has conducted hundreds of site visits and interviews, and looked at more than 1,000 cases. At each youth offending service, inspectors rated 12 aspects of work and awarded an overall performance rating.

The Inspectorate rated:

  • three services ‘Outstanding’
  • twelve services ‘Good’
  • eight services ‘Require improvement’
  • three services ‘Inadequate’.

One service – East Riding Youth Offending Team in the Yorkshire and Humberside region – received a clean sweep of ‘Outstanding’ ratings.

The service delivery standards are based upon the well-established and recognised ASPIRE model for case supervision (Assessment, Sentence Planning, Implementation, Review and Evaluation). The model is shown in the graphic below:

Overall, inspectors were impressed with the calibre of leadership and staff working in youth offending services. Inspectors met committed and knowledgeable staff across the country, and found examples of strong working relationships to support children and young people to make better life choices.

In addition to concerns about the quality of some out-of-court disposal supervision, inspectors have highlighted poor provision of education to children who have offended.

Mr Russell said: 

“All children are legally entitled to receive an education, but we found examples of children known to youth offending services receiving little or no education at all. With time on their hands, some children are committing offences during school hours or are at risk of being groomed or enticed into crime. Youth offending services must support children to access education because it is crucial to their life chances. Every service is led by a Management Board; we found education representatives were missing in almost a third of our inspections. The lack of representation at a senior level has prevented some services from making satisfactory progress on this issue.”

Today’s report also includes preliminary results from a survey of the work that youth offending services are doing to tackle knife crime. Almost 60 per cent of respondents believe that knife crime is increasing in their area. While almost nine out of ten services provide knife crime interventions to the young people they work with, only 29 per cent had formally evaluated the impact of these programmes. Eighty-five per cent of services reported that they supervise young people who have themselves been victims of knife crime.

Inspectors found that county lines offending – drug-dealing networks that often exploit children and young people – had become a major challenge for youth offending services and other criminal justice agencies. They praised “heroic efforts” by some teams to counter this offending, but found “a deeply concerning lack of awareness” in other regions.

 Mr Russell said: 

“These networks typically involve gangs, violence and exploitation, and have a significant impact on children and young people, their families and communities. Yet there is a dearth of national guidance for youth offending services to spot and address this type of crime.”

Mr Russell concluded: 

“There has been a welcome reduction in the number of children and young people entering the youth justice system for the first time. However, youth offending services still face multiple challenges in managing these young people – many of whom have had a very difficult start to life and have complex needs.”

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