Closer ties between YOTs and social workers heralded

Alex Chard (pictured) welcomes the criminal justice Green Paper, Breaking the Cycle

The criminal justice green paper Breaking the Cycle presents us with a radical and welcome policy shift in placing equal importance on safeguarding the welfare of young people as it does on preventing offending.

“Intervening early in the lives of children at risk and their families, before behaviour becomes entrenched, presents our best chance to break the cycle of crime,” it says. The proposals make a clear link between families with complex needs, the risks of offending by children and young people and the need for effective inter-agency approaches to intervene.

To achieve this it proposes finding a way to ensure local authorities share both some of the risks and the rewards in tackling the root causes of youth offending, While there are no detailed plans the paper looks at giving local authorities an up-front slice of central custody budgets to “incentivise” them to intervene early and therefore meet agreed reductions in youth custody rates. If there are no reductions the MOJ will claw some of the money back from councils.

Achieving these reductions will require far more integrated working between Youth Offending Teams and children’s services, which is currently the exception rather than the norm. Rewarding or penalising areas on their effective management of young offenders will change the relationship between children’s services and YOTs. Whilst YOTs have involved themselves in preventative work, this has often been distinct from mainstream children’s services whereas now they will have to jointly engage with needy and risky families.

The shifting relationships between YOTs and children’s services is also signaled in the proposal to ensure YOTs are inspected as a part of mainstream local authority children’s services, this in itself will re-position YOTs within the thinking of Directors of Children’s Services.

The green paper gives the clear message that the current youth justice system has failed to prevent re-offending. In my view, it is on the right track in recognising that offending rates will only be effectively addressed where there is high quality joint working with children’s social care.

Alex Chard provides management development services to YOTs and children’s services

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