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Desistance, adversity and trauma
Latest HMIP Academic Insight: Desistance, adversity and trauma: implications for practice with children and young people in conflict with the law

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Practice implications

The latest (published on 29 September 2023) Academic Insight from HM Inspectorate of Probation is entitled Desistance, adversity and trauma: Implications for practice with children and young people in conflict with the law and is written by Jonathan Evans, Tricia Skuse, Dusty Kennedy and Jonny Matthew. The report sets out a practice agenda for youth justice that supports desistance from offending processes, engages with social adversity and trauma, and helps to empower children and young people to work towards their pro-social goals. 


The main point that emerges from the authors’ discussion of desistance, adversity and trauma-informed practice is that a twin-track approach is required:

  1. There is need to engage with children and young people as unique individuals
  2. Practitioners and their agencies should also engage proactively with the wider social contexts that shape the lives and experiences of young people.

The authors argue that failure to appropriately balance a psychological and sociological approach to helping children and young people risks preventing them achieve a balanced and contented life. It also risks denying them equality of access to vital support.

The authors argue that it is important to acknowledge both structural inequality and individual experience of trauma.

They advocate for a developmentally-informed approach to practice that is ACEs- and trauma-aware. They argue that this work should also involve helping young people to develop a sense of their own interpretations and narratives about what has already happened in their lives. This work can help empower them to take ownership of their personal agency and make positive plans for the future.

Social workers already undertake Life Story and Life History Work with care-experienced children, so those skills should also exist in many YJSs. Pre-sentence report authors also have an important role to play in representing in their court reports the desistance narratives and journeys of individual children.

Addressing social injustice

The authors contend that there is a professional responsibility to exercise a collective duty of care to address social injustices. They argue that professionals should not only acknowledge structural barriers be proactive in trying to remove them. The report calls for “local poverty-aware practice strategies” and give a number of examples:

  • systematic assessments of the finances of young people (and, where appropriate, their families) followed by income maintenance and maximisation plans
  • access to specialist advocacy services
  • targeted youth and community development projects in deprived neighbourhoods
  • regular reviews and training on how poverty and other forms of discrimination are represented in assessments and pre-sentence reports
  • how best to remove the obdurate barriers to housing, education, training (including local authority apprenticeships) and employment that have been erected as a direct result of young people’s criminal records and enhanced criminal record checks.

Thanks to Julia Taubitz for kind permission to use the header image in this post which was previously published on Unsplash.

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