Interventions to support young offenders have improved markedly, writes Dean Woodward, but the approach is now entering a critical phase
The development of the scaled approach is the most significant change to the youth justice world in the past 10 years and is undoubtedly an improvement on how we support young offenders.
The introduction of the Youth Rehabilitation Order (YRO) to replace the previous complex array of orders is a logical step forward. The YRO and the training rolled out to practitioners has been comprehensive and, overall, the Youth Justice Board has ensured a sound preparation for the implementation.
The preparation so far has been successful with little disruption in court and in the youth justice system. However, a larger test on two fronts awaits the system.
The scaled approach enables the intervention provided by a YOT to reflect the young offender’s needs.
Many practitioners and magistrates will argue that this was often the case previously. However, the tiered YRO ensures that an order addresses need. This, in itself, creates more work for practitioners in providing a more in-depth assessment. No one is arguing that this is a necessity as we become more sophisticated in our work.
However, there is likely to be an uneven increase in workload in those YOTs where there is a greater level of need generally.
Local authorities with higher levels of poverty, serious offending, substance misuse and other influences on offending are going to need to provide more interventions and are going to have young offenders attending the office for supervision more regularly. As a general rule, this is likely to be the impact in inner-city boroughs rather than more affluent areas.
Only time will tell how much of an increase in work is created and in the resources required to work within the scaled approach.
In the same way, and on the opposite side of the argument, only time will tell whether the benefits of this more sophisticated approach will filter down to reduce pressures on capacity by reducing re-offending.
An even more complex test will be in the journeys of the young offenders on YROs with intensive conditions.
Young offenders will have more appointments, more interventions and their level of participation will be more intense than would have previously been imposed on them. This provides more opportunities for young offenders to miss appointments and receive warnings or be returned to court in breach of their order.
There is also the likelihood that young offenders will be placed on more intensive orders earlier than previously. Therefore, in breach proceedings the young offender could be considered for custody at an earlier point.
I hope to be able to write in a year’s time that the YJB’s considerable efforts in rolling out the scaled approach were replicated in their efforts to ensure custody rates also fell, or at least remained constant. I also hope I can write that the extra work of improved assessments and earlier targeted intervention provided the benefits that we all wished to see.
Dean Woodward is assistant director of Lambeth Specialist Youth Services in London
This article is published in the 4 February issue of Community Care magazine under the heading Scaling new heights? Youth justice faces two-pronged test