Outgoing Chief Inspector of Probation, Justin Russell, has today (28 June 2023) published the inspectorate’s annual report on youth justice services. The report finds strong youth justice services, across England and Wales, that are delivering high quality services to children, young people, and the communities in which they live. Overall, services know how to work with their partners to get the best outcomes for children, management boards understand their services and partnerships, and essential requirements such as substance misuse treatment and mental health support are being met.
In marked contrast to the Probation Service, the overall ratings for YJSs have borne up remarkably well during the pandemic. Across the 108 services the inspectors have reported on over the past four years, 55 have been rated ‘Good’ and 12 ‘Outstanding’. Last year they rated 70 per cent of the 33 services inspected in these top two categories, compared with 58 per cent pre-pandemic in 2018/2019 – with particularly strong scores on the inspectorate’s ratings for staffing, partnerships, and IT and facilities.
Inspectors report they are generally finding low vacancy rates; manageable caseloads; strong relationships with local partners; and a good range of services for children being delivered in-house. The multi-agency management board model continues to work well too, with many dedicated and involved chairs (now usually Directors of Children’s Services) providing strong leadership and scrutiny of the work of their services. Inspectors have rated six out of every 10 services reported on in the past year as ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ on leadership, and only one as ‘Inadequate’.
While staffing remains a strength for the great majority of services, with ratings of ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ for 25 of the 33 services covered in this report, there are often vacant probation posts in the local services we visit – an issue raised in last year’s annual report.
Mr Russell says that he expects these posts to be filled as an important priority, as the staffing situation in the Probation Service improves over the coming year.
More out of court disposals
This annual report notes that a vanishingly small proportion of children are now processed through formal criminal justice processes – whether through the courts system or a police caution/conditional caution. Instead, an increasing number of children are dealt with via out-of-court disposals. These are increasingly taking the form of a community resolution or an ‘Outcome 22’ – where children are offered support and intervention without receiving a criminal sanction.
While welcoming this trend, Mr Russell also highlighted concerns around how little we know about out of court disposals:
“There is no doubt we are seeing an increasing trend for managing children who commit crime via informal out-of-court disposals. But how these are managed varies widely, leading to inconsistences across the country in which children receive them and for what offences. Given the overwhelming importance of these informal processes, it is very disappointing that five years after we recommended that the Ministry of Justice publish national data on the number and effectiveness of this sort of out-of-court disposal in 2018, this information is still not available. It remains the case that what is now the predominant way of dealing with children who have committed an offence remains uncounted and unevaluated.”
Education, Training & Employment
Despite the positive overall inspection findings, the annual report notes that concerns remain around education, training and employment (ETE). The number of recommendations made to services on this issue has doubled since last year, the Inspectorate is still finding services with a high number of older children who are not in any form of training or education, along with high levels of permanent exclusion from mainstream education.
The Chief Inspector praised the “resilience, compassion, commitment, and imagination” of youth justice workers in keeping their services running throughout the pandemic and providing an increasingly high quality of service to young people in contact with the justice system and their local communities.