Attitude problem?

The work of youth offending teams, including the use of youth
inclusion programmes (YIPs) is, in the words of the Youth Justice
Board, helping to show that: “children’s attitudes
towards wrongdoing, their family circumstances, their relationship
with school and the influence of their peers are all critical
factors in determining the path they choose”.1
YIPs cover a range of preventive measures. Team sports, debating
societies and creative classes teach young people the value of
working together, listening, co-operating with others and building
self-esteem. Early experience of YIPs indicates that when young
people are occupied constructively, crime rates plummet.
However, it is also crucial to listen to young people about what
they think services should look like. Consequently we designed a
questionnaire for 80 young offenders and 80 non-offenders.
To eliminate selection bias as much as possible we decided to
target the next 80 young offenders with which two of the staff had
contact. Similarly, we used the questionnaire with 80 youngsters
attending nearby youth facilities and a school club (eliminating
any known offenders). Both groups were fairly well matched by age,
sex and ethnicity. There were, however, a slightly higher
proportion of non-offending younger males than of offending males:
this partly reflects the way in which they were accessed, and may
also suggest an increasing contact for males with the criminal
justice system as they get older.
As those consulted were not anonymous it is possible that some
respondents might have either played up or down
the true extent of their problems or behaviour.
We found that a large proportion of offenders were excluded from
school or did not attend regularly. This contrasted strongly with
the non-offending groups, all of whom either attended school, were
in training, or were working. These offenders can be difficult to
reach, and efforts to include them in out of school activities or
social events might prove impossible. There was also a stark
contrast between offenders and non-offenders regarding sporting
activities and team sports. There was a lack of motivation among
offenders in these activities. This sits alongside their lack of
social contact: it is difficult to establish if the categories of
sporting pastimes, team sports and motivation are linked, although
the information would strongly suggest a lack of motivation for
those respondents not engaging positively with their peer group
within the community. The motivation and aspirations of youngsters
within the offending groups decreased with age, but continued to
feature strongly within the non-offending groups.
Male offenders recognised difficulties around money, employment
prospects, drug and alcohol use, physical health and mental health.
But female offenders emphasised concerns about mental health and
housing options. Child care featured strongly. But there was also
more risk-taking behaviour; this included a greater use of drugs
and alcohol, non-attendance at school, a lower incidence of
physical activity, and sexual activity. At the same time many
recognised a need to uphold the law, and expressed concern at not
feeling safe in the community.
Some linked these problems to drug culture; others stressed a need
to provide safe surroundings where young people could meet without
fear of persecution from others. If this is linked to the lack of
sporting opportunities that are available to this section of the
community, it suggests that reducing the inequity in accessing
facilities for recreation may well also provide the means to
improve the motivation for these young people.
Similarly, the finding that motivation decreases with increasing
age suggests that providing services for those aged 12-15 may help
to foster change. Young people who are able to develop in an
enabling environment might be less tempted into antisocial
behaviour. They might then be more likely to sustain links with
school and then be better able to access training or employment in
the future.
The study reinforces the view that young offenders’ teams and
other service providers should focus on preventive opportunities
with young people.
• Brian Hall, is a health adviser at the youth
offending service in Hartlepool Primary Care Trust. Deborah Hall is
a health visitor

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