Over fifty members of AYM met in Rugby for the annual general meeting on 9 June. MoJ’s review of the youth justice system

We heard that the publication of the MoJ’s review of the youth justice system has been brought forward and agreed to write to Charlie Taylor, who is leading the review.

See letter below

From the Chair of the Association 10 June 2016 To Charlie Taylor, Ministry of Justice Review of the Youth Justice System
Dear Charlie,

We were sorry you were unable to join us at our AGM this week but fully understand the reasons for this. With nearly 50 of our members all in one place we used the opportunity to think about the key messages that we would want you to hear from YOT managers as you prepare to publish your review.

Firstly we wanted to say that we have appreciated the way you have set about your task; you have taken the time and trouble to meet many of our members and their partnership boards, and, most importantly, you have gone out of your way to listen to the voices of young people who are caught up in the justice system. Thank you.

We know that you have given a great deal of attention to the secure estate, and we do not propose to say a great deal about that part of the youth justice system, other than to repeat our long held view that rehabilitation is most effective if the small number of young people who must be detained are kept in small secure units, staffed by well-trained people who are committed to working for positive change in young people. Ideally, such units should be close enough to the young person’s home for family contact to be maintained.

We want to focus on the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act, and on what we see as the four pillars on which the delivery of youth justice services stand: the YOT, the YOT manager, the YOT steering group and the national coordination of the system via the Youth Justice Board. We have heard that someone has described the 1998 Act as a “straightjacket” from which the system needs to be liberated. We do not agree. Of course the legislation needs to be updated to take account of issues such as the large rise in out-of-court disposals and the current trend for devolution of responsibilities to local areas. But please do not be tempted to undermine the four pillars of the system, lest the whole edifice comes crashing down.

Youth Offending Teams

Dealing first with the concept of the YOT, we heard this described by an eminent professor at our AGM as: “The best example of multi-agency and multi-professional working – a remarkable success story in reducing crime and criminalisation, showing humanity, care and compassion within a context of control and containment”. We are proud of this assessment, and of the well-documented achievements of YOT partnerships in reducing first-time entrants to the system and reducing the use of custody. We take the view that the concept of the YOT has been one of the best pieces of public

sector reform of this century, and established a model which many others parts of health and social care have sought to copy.

A number of our members have been around long enough to remember the youth justice system of the 1980’s and 90’s. There were some good people doing some very good work, but this was fragmented and inconsistent. There was a strong sense of there being “injustice by geography”. One member described youth justice at the time as “a Cinderella issue managed by Cinderella services”. Our anxieties about greater devolution are that partner agencies may feel freer to withdraw their best staff from YOTs; case transfers between YOTs will be become more difficult as services’ offerings become more diverse, and it will become as difficult to compare the quality and effectiveness of services as to compare apples with pears.

Please think about how the YOT model can be further strengthened by tying partners in more tightly with their financial and staffing contributions. Think also about how the model could be extended to include young adults aged 18- 24, given the inadequacies in services currently offered to this age group as well as the important research into brain development in late adolescence. Extending the remit of YOTs to age 25 would be in line with the new code for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities; it would also be in line with the intended changes to “leaving care” support for Looked after Children which the current plans are also to extend to 25.

The YOT Manager

YOT managers are key in providing leadership to a team or service of professional staff drawn from many different backgrounds. Many of us take on additional responsibilities in areas such as safeguarding boards and local criminal justice boards. Some provide leadership to other multi agency services within their areas. We believe it is important that YOT managers are inspirational leaders who are competent to manage public protection, safeguarding and retain the confidence of their staff, of young people, of victims of crime, their local communities and the courts. They should not be seen as “belonging” to one agency, such as to a local authority’s children’s services or to the Police and Crime Commissioner, but rather as belonging to the multi-agency partnership.

A straw poll of our members at our AGM suggested that over 80% now come from social work background. In 2000, a greater number would have been drawn from other professions, notably from probation and police. We find this change regrettable and would like to see greater encouragement to all of the YOT partners to identify potential leaders in the future. We believe that new leaders need to be trained and supported in their roles and for the last two years we, as an association, have provided a leadership development programme for “Aspiring Future Youth Justice Leaders”. These programmes have been fully subscribed and the feedback from participants has been exceptionally positive.

The Steering Group

The YOT steering group, now more commonly called a management board or a partnership board, holds the YOT manager to account and, just as importantly, hold each of the partners to account for the contribution each of them is making to preventing offending. The model is a very effective one, but needs some support and nurturing if it is to survive more years of austerity. In a sense these boards have become a victim of their own success; with youth crime now so much lower than in

2000, there is the temptation for partners to send less senior people (or no one at all) to represent them, so that boards become less strategic and less ambitious. Effective partnership boards understand that while they may be dealing with a smaller cohort of children and young people, their needs and the risks they present are more complex, and need ever more sophisticated responses from the agencies around the table.

Our steering groups are wary of some aspects of devolution. They are concerned about the risk of fragmentation and national inconsistency; most steering groups are keen to be able to compare their performance with others. They are keen to improve their YOTs, and we are proud of the role that AYM members are taking in developing the “Peer-led Improvement Process” for YOTs and we plan to continue to develop this.

Management boards have differing views, of course, but many are particularly wary of the devolution of budgets for secure accommodation, as they have limited control over the way the judiciary will require them to spend these budgets.

The Youth Justice Board

It will of course be for the YJB to make its own representations to you about its future. We would just say that without a strong body providing national leadership, the youth justice system will be weaker. We have seen ministerial responsibility for youth justice move from the Home Office to (the then) Department for Children and Families, and to the Ministry of Justice. We do not think it helpful that responsibility rests with one ministry; better for central government to model the kind of cooperative work that it expects to see at a local level. In order to achieve cross-departmental ownership of the youth justice system, we will, in our view, continue to need a body to carry out many of the functions of the YJB.

Two further points in conclusion: firstly, as an association, we stand ready to do even more to help to consolidate the youth justice reforms of the last 18 years. Our resources are limited: we rely on subscriptions from our members of just £150 per annum, plus the small profit we make from our training programme. Our enthusiasm for the youth justice system, however, is unlimited. Secondly, YOTs have been successful in meeting the objectives set for them in spite of their reducing resources. Of course this does not mean we have done the job; future performance will only be achieved if we continue to function. There is a continual flow of new young people to be worked with.

We look forward to continuing this dialogue with you

Kind regards

Lesley Tregear Lesleytregear@warwickshire.gov.uk

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