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Youth Offending Services and children’s social care: working to ‘reduce the unnecessary criminalisation of children in care’

The Youth Offending Services Report has identified children in care as amongst the most vulnerable groups youth offending services come into contact with, highlighting the importance of children’s social services being intrinsically involved in youth justice.

27/07/23

Youth Offending Services and children’s social care: working to ‘reduce the unnecessary criminalisation of children in care’

The Youth Offending Services Report has identified children in care as amongst the most vulnerable groups youth offending services come into contact with and has highlighted the importance of children’s social services being intrinsically involved in youth justice throughout proceedings.

The recently published HM Inspectorate of Probation’s 2022 Annual Report: ‘inspections of youth offending services’ has identified strong working relationships with children’s social care teams as an intrinsic part of a successful youth justice service.

The publication of the Youth Annual Report 2022 has highlighted not only that there are no inadequate services but that 70% of all services inspected were rated ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’. This marks the continuation of a positive trend in Youth Justice Services (YJSs) across the country, a statistic that has risen from 58% in 2018/19 with may inspected services showing ‘considerable improvement’. This also marks the second year running that none of the UK’s Youth Justice Services have been rated ‘Inadequate’ according to HM Inspectorate of Probation.

Coordinated multi-agency plans were praised throughout the report, with specific reference to the relationships developed between other agencies and children’s social care being a deciding factor in the success of these plans. Throughout all of the services inspected, the Justice Inspectorate has said staffing and partnerships had achieved ‘particularly strong scores on our ratings’. This role of partnerships within youth justice was exemplified in the strong correlation between those services rated ‘Good’ or ‘Outstanding’ having displayed ‘strong relationships with children’s social care…with a clear and shared understanding of each other’s roles and proper coordination of plans’. This had, the report concluded, ‘resulted in the development of complementary and coordinated multi-agency plans’.

Although on the whole the report produced a positive appraisal of children’s social care within the youth justice system, shortcomings were mentioned, notably in the context of Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements (MAPPA). When multi-agency meetings were held to discuss high risk youth offenders, there was a tendency for some local authorities to ‘nominate one representative to cover more than one specialism due to resources pressures, for example, children’s social care and youth justice, which was not helpful as they were not fully equipped to speak for both services.’

Equally, in areas that were judged as ‘requires improvement’, amongst other issues was inadequate assessment of children’s needs, including ‘safety and wellbeing factors, risks of harm or diversity factors’ with a lack of specific support services being identified by the youth justice system. Emerging challenges included the long waiting lists for specialist provision for children with neurodivergent conditions and a lack of monitoring interventions delivered.

The report further emphasised importance of children’s social care within the youth justice system, identifying children in care and care-experienced children identified as ‘some of the most vulnerable children that YJSs work with.’ Although in cases involving children in care the inspectorate’s findings did not suggest that there was a gap in the quality of case work produced by practitioners, ‘variability in the quality of practice for children in care’ was cited as a concern, especially in relation to keeping children in care ‘safe from harm’. This was in part attributed to the number of different agencies involved when interacting with children in care and once again referred to the importance of ‘coherent’ practice between agencies.

In order to counteract this delivering the youth justice system to care-experienced children, the report expressed the need for practitioners to work effectively with other professionals and agencies to negate any ‘variability’, saying ‘the YJSs that were performing effectively in this area had good partnerships with children’s services and some private health providers’.

Positive practice case studies cited include youth justice services working alongside residential homes to ‘embed restorative practices’ and ‘reduce the unnecessary criminalisation of children in care.’ In these cases staff reported feeling ‘fully equipped to identify and support the needs of their children in care’ due to their effective partnerships and knowledge sharing with children’s services. The report noted that management boards who ‘understood their role in driving successful partnerships’ were crucial to staff feeling this way about positive contact with children in care.

Two key areas in which the benefits of this joined-up approach from services were evident included mental health treatment and substance misuse, both issues found to have been handled well by the involvement of social care in the process.

Chief Inspector of Probation, Justin Russell, reflecting on what will be the final report during his tenure, said “The resilience, compassion, commitment, and imagination they have shown in keeping their services going through the most challenging of times, to meet the needs of the children on their caseloads and keep the wider public safe, have been truly inspiring to me and to our inspectors.”

Find out more and read the full HM Inspectorate of Probation 2022 Annual Report here: https://www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprobation/wp-content/uploads/sites/5/2023/06/Youth-annual-report-2022-v1.0.pdf

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