Reality check

Pauline Batstone has recently taken on two new roles.
She’s joined a belly-dancing class and she has been elected
chairperson of the Association of Youth Offending Team Managers

Now with more than 70 members in England, the association was
set up three years ago to provide a practice-based perspective on
youth justice which was independent both of the probation
officers’ trade union Napo and the Youth Justice Board.

Currently, the association’s main concern is the increase
in the number of children and young people in custody – especially
those who are in prison because they have breached antisocial
behaviour orders.

Batstone says: “The welfare needs of children and young people
should be central to the development of youth justice, and this
increase suggests it is not. In my own YOT we have 19 in custody
and eight of those were Asbo breaches. As a result the association
is working in partnership with the Audit Commission to look at how
Asbos are working, and at alternatives. We believe Asbos should be
the end of the line. Let’s try to deal with the problem at an
earlier stage.”

Batstone herself moved from social work into probation early in
her career, having initially studied to be a child care officer in
the days before social services departments were created. She has
been managing services for 15 years, and now heads
Bournemouth’s YOT. She’s no stranger to public office,
having been a district council for 16 years and a county councillor
for six. Batstone also has a long record of voluntary action in
pressure groups such as Shelter and the Child Poverty Action Group,
local community groups and professional bodies the British
Association of Social Workers and the Napo.

Another issue of great concern to AYOTM is the plight of young
people as victims of crime. Batstone says: “Young people tend to
offend against other young people, and this fact should be central
to policy-making in the field of youth justice. Children who are
convicted of offences against other children are then labelled
schedule 1 offenders for their whole lives.”

This can mean a child who is convicted of assault after a fight
in a school playground becomes a schedule 1 offender under the 1933
Children and Young Persons Act – a designation intended to be used
for people who pose a continuing risk to children. It means many
jobs are permanently closed to them, and that if they live with a
child – even while they themselves are a child – a child protection
investigation will take place.

Inevitably the other big issue for AYOTM is resources. YOT
managers are worried that a lack of funding may mean initiatives
such as the intensive supervision and support programme – designed
as an alternative to custody for persistent young offenders –
isn’t being given a fair chance. “ISSP involves at least 25
hours a week supervision, which is very expensive in a rural area.
My colleague in Dorset YOT estimates that the cost will be
£10,000 per young person. The Youth Justice Board estimates
£6,000 and they are going to get £4,000. That means it
will be more difficult for the youth offending team to deliver the
service as required.”

Another ambitious programme which according to Batstone is being
inadequately funded is parent support. Ten per cent of parents
whose children should be receiving community penalties are
receiving parent training from YOTs, either as a result of
parenting orders issued by the courts or voluntarily. “We would all
support working with parents but the funding has not followed the
policy,” says Batstone.

The training itself has been organised on a largely ad-hoc
basis. “There are a range of potential programmes out there, so
everyone did what they thought appropriate. The key thing is
assessing parents and building their confidence. I would like to
have someone in my team who was dedicated to doing that, but I
can’t afford it.”

Batstone’s own training as a belly dancer is on hold for
now but she puts on her tape each morning and practices in front of
the mirror. “It’s very enjoyable – I never think about work
while I’m dancing.”

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