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Trauma-informed work key to protecting the public
YOTs are doing a good job protecting the public from serious young offenders but need more support & training around trauma and the use of social media.

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Do YOTs protect the public?

The public can be better protected from dangerous and violent young offenders if adults working with them are trained to understand the often extreme trauma in their childhoods.

That’s the headline finding from a new report published by HMI Probation today (26 October 2017): Addressing childhood trauma of young offenders and understanding social media use in crimes can reduce offending.

At first glance it seems slightly odd that an inspection report addresses two such distinct issues: trauma-informed desistance work and the use of social media. However, it transpires that the inspection was actually an examination of the work done by Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) with young people convicted of violent and other serious offences and that these were the two key issues which emerged.

Overall findings

Overall, inspectors found we found YOTs doing a good job with this group of serious offenders. They found that almost all the staff they interviewed in six different YOTs were competent and committed. YOTs were found to be using new assessment and planning materials effectively, although they could do more to incorporate the views of young people in their plans, and to develop robust intervention plans.

YOTs were also found to be working well to protect victims, if necessary by setting exclusion or curfew conditions, and taking enforcement action when needed to keep people safe.

Traumatic pasts

Inspectors examined the case files of 115 young people who had committed violent, sexual and/or other offences where there were potential public protection issues. Where information was available, they found that more than three in four had experienced emotional trauma or other deeply distressing or disturbing things in their lives.

Research tells us that these experiences will affect a young person’s current behaviour, making it more likely that they will offend and reducing their ability to work with adults trying to help them.

The spectrum of experiences was remarkably wide (and are described in an Appendix to the report) and included separation and estrangement from parents, the death of a parent or main carer, sexual abuse, severe physical chastisement, serial domestic abuse and parental substance misuse.

For some young people their experiences of trauma were both multiple and severe. Domestic abuse was prevalent: one-third had grown up in a household where there was a formal record of domestic abuse. Almost half of our sample were in local authority care, often placed some way from home.

Inspectors recommend that all YOTs should be able to identify and respond effectively to emotional trauma and other adverse events in young people’s lives, and apply the strategies available for tailoring services to take account of trauma. There is evidence, for example, that the young person’s relationship with the case manager is important and also that interventions should be kept as simple as possible.

Inspectors found YOT staff accounting for some of these issues in their work with young people, but doing so intuitively rather than within a clear policy or practice framework. We found that the models of youth justice intervention that respond to trauma have been implemented in only a handful of YOTs.

Social media and its relationship with offending

In one in four of the cases inspected, the young person’s use of social media was directly related to the offence they had committed. It had been the catalyst for some of the most serious and violent offences committed, and inspectors found offence scenarios that would have been unthinkable just ten years ago with social media used to both incite and plan crime.” Cases included:

  • Arguments and personal abuse starting on social media leading to physical assaults in the street or on public transport.
  • Young people being blackmailed online, using indecent images that they had previously been pressured to upload.
  • Gangs posting video material to appeal for members, to stake their territory and to issue challenges to other gangs.

In many more cases, social media was having an impact on the young person’s life.

This is new behaviour. Not surprisingly, inspectors found that practice is lagging behind and has not kept abreast of the strong influence social media has on young people who commit serious offences, or with the wide range of social media they use and how they use it. Many strategic managers had a very limited understanding of social media and its impact on young people. As with trauma, inspectorse found that staff were often acting intuitively.

With limited national or local guidance on effective strategies and interventions, case managers generally acted on their own initiative to find relevant material.

YOTs monitor young people and respond to changes in behaviour, attitude or associates. Young people’s social media output offers clues as to what is happening in their lives. However, local policy frameworks for monitoring online activity are often undeveloped. Staff need up to date practice guidance and policy, consistent with current surveillance legislation and guidance, if they are to make good quality assessments based on a wide range of sources, including young people’s social media activity.

Inspectors found youth offenders teams in London, where gang crime was more prevalent, were “more in tune” with the social media element of offending. The report contains a glossary of social media ‘codes’ compiled by a police officer in the YOT in Waltham Forest, north London.


HMI Probation helpfully summarised the findings of this report in the infographic below:


All posts in the infographic category are kindly sponsored by Intelligent Fingerprinting whose non-invasive fingerprint drug test has been designed to simplify and support drug screening programmes across a range of applications. IFP has no editorial influence on the contents of this site.

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4 Responses

  1. Hi,
    It is truly uplifting to read this Inspectors report on the profound link between young offending patterns of behaviours, and the family of origin and other trauma experiences of the young people themselves. A staggering 81% have experienced severe trauma.
    In our pioneering work in Bexley , East London, we were invited 6 years ago to set up an individual and family therapy intervention service, to support the YOTS programme. Case workers from YOTS, refer to us the most psychologically at risk individuals and most dysfunctional family units. What we have learned shocked us: the vast majority of young offenders experience themselves as “victims”, because they have indeed been the victims of trauma at home and elsewhere. This is not some pseudo-liberal psychobabble. It is the psychological reality and truth of their deprived and traumatising Domestic, , Family and Social environment.
    The most disturbing pattern we have learned from our work with these young people, is that their offending behaviour seeks consciously and unconsciously to invert their victim role from their own life, by perpetrating crimes upon others driven by a cathartic revenge seeking. The Street Warrior role provides a framework for this in the context of emerging adolescent Identity.
    This is a hard truth and principle which those who are seeking to reach out to this alienated group of young people, must embrace in order to bring a more enlightened approach to their care. Yes: their Care not their Punishment.
    We have made progress but their is still a long way to go.
    We need to establish a nationwide programme of individual and family psychotherapeutic interventions.

  2. Thanks very much for your interest Simon, good to hear of the work you are doing in Bexley. Bob Smith, the lead inspector on this report, has kindly agreed to write a blog post giving more information on this issue. Watch out for it on the site some time in November.
    Best Wishes

  3. As one of the founders and chair of Parents of traumatised adopted teens organisation (The Potato Grp ) I appauld this report.

    All of the children and young people we parent have come from backgrounds of abuse and neglect , often whilst in utero. Placing them in loving adoptive homes following trauma can and does go some way to mitigate against future involvement with the criminal justice system .
    However, more often than not in the Potato population, our children’s trauma histories are at worst ignored, usually not taken into account and at best, taken into account but then ignored by the criminal courts.
    As it happens , I will be talking about this at a YJB conference on Friday. I hope that those present are aware of the report.

  4. This is great to read. I think the need for people working with vulnerable people in general to face to some extent the impact of trauma in their own lives is also an important piece of the jigsaw.

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