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Probation inspectorate reviews how well youth offending services identify safety concerns.

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Identifying safety concerns

Last Friday (23 September 2022), Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation published the latest in their Research and Analysis Bulletin series: The identification of safety concerns relating to children. A key objective for those delivering youth offending services is to keep children and other people safe, which sits alongside and supports the all-important nurturing and strengths-focused work that helps children to realise their potential. The focus in this bulletin is upon the assessment stage of youth justice work, recognising that it is vital to identify all potential safety concerns and sources of harm in order to mitigate and prevent any dangers. HMI Probation provide examples of what good and poor assessment looks like in practice, including areas for further attention.

Evidence base

The bulletin is based on the inspectorate’s data on a total of 1,945 case assessments examined in the course of 43 inspections of youth offending services between June 2018 and June 2020. Much of the report is based upon a qualitative analysis of the commentaries provided by inspectors in their evaluation of individual cases. In making judgments about the quality of YOT work, inspectors use the framework of the ASPIRE model, reproduced at the bottom of this blog post, which recognises that for delivery to be tailored to the individual child, both assessment and planning must be undertaken well.

Key findings

For many children supervised by youth offending teams (YOTs), there are concerns in relation to their own safety and/or the safety of other people, often other children. Inspectors found a high/very high safety and wellbeing classification in about three in ten (31 per cent) cases and a high/very high risk of serious harm classification in about two in ten (19 per cent).

The safety concerns relating to the children themselves and to other people were often overlapping and intertwined, with links to the following ten key issues:

  1. carrying knives or other weapons
  2. illegal drug possession
  3. drug and alcohol misuse
  4. adversity and trauma
  5. care experience
  6. criminal exploitation, including county lines
  7. mental health issues
  8. domestic abuse
  9. family issues
  10. negative peer influences.

In a relatively large minority of cases, the safety classifications deemed appropriate by the inspector differed from that recorded by the case manager – it was usually judged that the classification should have been higher. Inspectors identified a number of common problems:

  • a poor understanding of risk of serious harm
  • a failure to note all elements of risk
  • an insufficient use of partner information
  • over-optimism about risks and contexts, with a minimisation of serious events or underplaying factors linked to risk of serious harm
  • accepting the child’s account without seeking further information or enacting professional curiosity
  • assessments remaining out of date and not being reviewed following new information and events
  • too little or no consideration of future risks and the potential for escalation.

Inspectors said that high workloads and other staffing problems sometimes undermined the quality of assessment of safety issues. Helpfully, inspectors identified that good practice around assessment of safety  were more likely where YOT case managers:

  • were organisationally supported by strong partnership arrangements
  • had ready access to all required information
  • had time to reflect and review their practice with managers and colleagues
  • displayed professional curiosity and an analytical mindset in understanding the life of the child.


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

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