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Supporting the desistance of children
Probation inspectors' research on how best to support the desistance of children subject to court orders.

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Research and analysis

The latest (published 21 May 2021) Research and Analysis Bulletin from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation focuses on Supporting the desistance of children subject to court orders. Written by Laura Buckley and Robin Moore, the bulletin is based on analysis of 43 YOT inspections conducted between June 2018 and February 2020 in which inspectors examined a total of 1,168 cases.

Key findings and implications

  • Many YOTs had a wide range of services available, including those provided in-house and those provided by partner agencies, third sector providers, and through other commissioned services. Inspectors saw many strong examples of multi-agency working, with hubs available in some locations, acting as one-stop shops with a range of services for children to access. They also saw many examples of positive relationships between staff and children, providing a sound basis for the work undertaken.
  • However, inspectors also found examples of gaps in provision. Gaining access to mainstream Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) could be challenging, and figures for those not in education, employment or training (NEET) were high, with not enough being done by partners to address this issue. There were also gaps in the services available for girls, and a lack of suitable reparation services was notable across a number of YOTs. Across teams, there was also a lack of provision for speech and language therapy.
  • In three-quarters of the inspected cases, it was judged that there were three or more factors linked to desistance, highlighting how often careful attention needs to be paid to the sequencing and alignment of interventions. The combinations of factors increased in line with heightened concerns regarding the safety of the child and the safety of other people – there was a similar increase in relation to the number of previous sanctions.
  • Lifestyle was most frequently identified by inspectors as a desistance factor, recorded in three-quarters of inspected cases. Learning/education, training and employment (ETE) and substance misuse were also identified in over half of the cases. There were sub-group differences in prevalence rates by age and gender and for Looked After Children.
  • Looking at delivery in relation to identified factors, the levels of sufficiency ranged from 59 per cent for mental health to 75 per cent for learning/ETE. Across six factors, the quality of delivery was significantly lower for Looked After Children.
  • In the majority of cases, inspectors found that YOTs were paying attention to strengths/ protective factors and involving/engaging the child. Inspectors were less likely to judge this focus to be sufficient for those with a high number of previous sanctions and for Looked After Children.

Enablers and barriers

Inspectors identified a number of common enablers and barriers:

  • timely assessment, using up-to-date information from a range of sources
    persistence in connecting with the child and finding opportunities right for them
  • having an awareness of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), and addressing these at a pace comfortable for the child
  • recognising the learning style of the child, as well as any cultural and diversity needs
  • paying attention to the sequencing of interventions, and the need for flexibility
    identifying role models and more generally role modelling positive behaviours
  • having a clear exit strategy to enable the child to sustain or continue to make positive progress.

The inspectors concluded that each child should benefit from a holistic, personalised, supportive and responsive service, irrespective of their background or individual characteristics and circumstances.

They found that integrated services and pathways of delivery are particularly important for those children with the most chaotic backgrounds and complex needs, with a focus on overcoming any potential obstacles and establishing stability where necessary to enable the child to begin to move forward and realise their potential.


Thanks to Random Institute for permission to use their header image previously published on Unsplash.

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