Memorandum submitted by the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales (YJB)

Introduction

 

1. The Youth Justice Board for England and Wales (YJB) welcomes the inquiry and the

opportunity to submit written evidence. This note provides brief background on the role of the YJB before outlining some key issues in relation to Looked after children and the youth justice system. The YJB would be pleased to provide any further information that would be of assistance to the Committee.

 

2. The role of the YJB is to oversee the youth justice system in England and Wales. It

works to prevent offending and reoffending by children and young people under

the age of 18, and to ensure that custody for them is safe, secure, and addresses the

causes of their offending behaviour. The statutory responsibilities of the YJB include:

advising Ministers on the operation of, and standards for, the youth justice system

monitoring the performance of the youth justice system

purchasing places for, and placing, children and young people remanded or sentenced to custody

identifying and promoting effective practice

making grants to local authorities and other bodies to support the development of effective practice

commissioning research and publishing information.

3. While the YJB is responsible for overseeing the performance of youth justice services including multi-agency Youth Offending Teams and secure estate providers it does not directly manage any of the services.

Overview

 

4. Policy and practice in relation to Looked-after children is important to the YJB for a number of reasons.

Disproportionate representation in the youth justice system

While children in care are a relatively diverse group of children, overall they are disproportionately likely to be brought into contact with the youth justice system and to enter into custody. Care Matters: Transforming the Lives of Children and Young People in Care reported that while a small overall proportion of children in care were involved in the youth justice system they were still around three times more likely than other children to be cautioned or convicted of an offence while in care. Looked-after children are more likely to be exposed to the risk factors established in research as associated with the onset of youth offending than the general population of children. These factors include issues such as lack of parental support, poor attendance at school, emotional and behavioural problems, drug and substance misuse. While it is not established that being Looked-after by itself puts children at risk of involvement, other aspects in children's lives that can be associated with being Looked-after can increase risk levels. There is no automatic relationship between risk and actual involvement in offending but as noted higher prevalence of risk factors in general for this diverse group of children is likely to increase overall levels of involvement in the youth justice system.

Behaviour management and increased risk of criminalisation in relation to residential care

As well as the prevalence of risk factors associated with the onset of offending, another reason why there may be disproportionate involvement in the youth justice system relates to the management of challenging behaviour in residential homes. Magistrates have told us that they are concerned that relatively minor poor behaviour in residential homes may be more likely to result in formal proceedings and referral to the police than it would if it happened in the family home for children not in the care system.

 

Implications for management of YJS and impact on offending behaviour from out of area placements

The placement of looked after children into 'out of area' residential care placements raises issues for local youth justice services that need to manage children brought into the criminal justice system. There are issues about the adequacy of information flows between services and the level of shared understanding about continuing responsibilities of the placing authority if young people placed out of area do offend. There is also concern that out of area placements and instability of placements can impact on a young person's behaviour making offending behaviour more likely.

Specific issues in relation to custody and post custodial support

Looked-after children in custody may have specific and complex needs and it is important that the level of involvement from the home local authority continues both during and after custody in order to ensure continuity of care.

Policy Developments and current issues related to youth justice

 

5. The YJB strongly welcomed the publication of both Care Matters: Transforming the Lives of Children and Young People in Care and Care Matters: Time for Change and fully supports the objectives of both papers to improve outcomes for children and young people in care. Meeting the objectives set out in these two publications would not only improve the quality of life for these children but could help contribute to reducing levels of offending and reoffending by the minority of children in care who are brought into contact with the youth justice system. Some children in care can exhibit challenging behaviour which itself can be a reaction to the difficult circumstances which led them into care. The YJB agrees that improving strategies including improving the ability and skills of staff and arrangements to manage challenging behaviour can be an important element in improving life chances for children in care and preventing their contact with the criminal justice system and the consequences that can follow from that involvement.

 

Multi-agency protocols for managing behaviour and avoiding criminalisation

6. The Care Matters Green Paper, published in October 2006, included a commitment to develop a protocol on how children's homes should work with local police and Youth Offending Teams in order to address the issue of managing difficult behaviour while avoiding criminalisation where possible. Protocols between the relevant agencies have been operating in some areas since 2001. There are some indications that they can affect significant reductions in the number of recorded offences by Looked-after children where implemented alongside other measures such as training for residential staff in managing behaviour including the use of restorative justice approaches. Wiltshire social services and Wiltshire Constabulary introduced their protocol in 2001, at that time overall figures show the number of offences committed by Wiltshire Looked-after children was 184. By 2004 this figure had fallen to 22 and we understand the figure rose slightly in 2006 to 35. It should be noted that the protocol was part of a wider package of measures including training for residential staff in restorative justice, the introduction of remand foster care scheme and the introduction of a mentoring scheme. As well as the benefits for individual children and the management of residential homes, improved responses can have real benefits for the police and courts through reduced demands on their resources. To take forward the commitment to develop the multi-agency approach further a cross government working group led by the Ministry of Justice is currently working to establish a common template by which all areas can develop protocols and to encourage as many local areas as possible to sign up to operating them. YJB is also working with the ACPO Youth Issues group who are looking to establish best practice guidance for forces and develop new proposals on crime recording standards in Children's Homes along similar lines to those established for schools.

 

The impact of out of area placements for youth justice services

7. The YJB welcomes proposals announced aimed at increasing placement stability and agrees that instability can lead to underachievement in education and in other areas of children's lives, which in turn can be associated with the onset and escalation of offending behaviour. YJB is aware that there can be significant management issues for Youth Offending Teams due to the number of out of area placements that can be made. Youth Offending Teams have not always been made aware of young people being placed in their area even when they have had some offending history. Data and information exchange between Youth Offending Teams can be patchy with the locations of placements being unknown. The implications can be particularly significant for smaller, including rural areas, some of which have significant numbers of private residential care homes in their areas. This can put a strain on YOT resources and raise difficulties where they may not have as good access to specialist services such as CAMHS or educational psychologists as they would have in larger YOT areas. The YJB has undertaken some initial work investigating the impact of out of area placements on the management of the system and is now working with DCSF to look at how best this can be addressed including the role of guidance and protocols across relevant departments and agencies on the appropriate delivery of youth justice services for those children in care who are placed out of area and who offend.

 

Importance of joint work between schools and Youth Offending Teams

9. YJB welcomes the measures set out by the government to improve the education experience of children in care. There is a strong relationship between engagement and achievement in education and protection against involvement in offending behaviour. We would particularly welcome better support in schools to help prevent exclusions of children in care given the links between absence from school and offending. Better working relationships between schools and Youth Offending Teams could help develop approaches to prevent new exclusions and ensure through information sharing that emerging problems are identified early. On a related but separate point YJB would also welcome consideration being given to how approaches to improve educational outcomes for children in care could be applied to other groups including children and young people who offend and have been disengaged from education.

 

10. The Safer School Partnerships (SSP) programme has been developed to enable local agencies to address significant behavioural and crime-related issues in and around a school and while not focused on Looked-after children it can help with educational engagement and behaviour management in general terms. A result of the YJB's proposal to develop a new policing model for schools, the Safer Schools Partnership programme was launched as a pilot in September 2002, and brought into mainstream policy in March 2006. There are now over 400 such partnerships.

Custodial issues

11. There are particular issues for Looked-after children who enter custody. It is important that local authorities continue to take an active involvement in the lives of children in care who do enter custody. We welcome commitments made to help ensure this happens and to ensure that those children in care on a voluntary basis are explicitly included in the arrangements.

 

12. In order to address concerns about lack of social work provision in Young Offender Institutions the YJB has funded specific posts in each institution over the last three years. The DCSF has recently announced transitional funding to continue the posts in 2008/09 with the expectation that local authorities will take over funding in future years. The introduction of social work posts in YOIs has been subject to an independent evaluation which is due to be published shortly. The evaluation indicates that the social worker provision can be an important specialist service contributing to looked after children and care leaver needs that had previously not been attended to. Additionally, the specialist nature of the service indicates that this provision could not be filled by other posts within prison service establishments. .

 

13. The YJB welcomes the measures in the Children and Young Persons Bill currently being considered by Parliament that seek to ensure that Looked-after children receive appropriate visits by local authorities including in custody. The YJB understands that guidance is expected to make clear that this responsibility for visits should not rest with the Youth Offending Team itself but with children's social services. While it is important that Youth Offending Teams, secure establishments and social services work closely together, the involvement of the social services department is important to maintain continuity of contact and ensure there is effective planning for after the end of the sentence and contact with the Youth Offending Team. It is the YJB's view that these visits to looked after children in custody should be conducted by qualified social workers from children's services departments of local authorities.

14. We additionally support the principle that children in care who enter custody receive the full range of leaving care services that they are entitled to. Leaving custody can be a critical time of vulnerability when young people will benefit from intensive support. YJB welcomes the proposals in Care Matters to increase the range of supported accommodation for young people making the transition from care. Young people leaving care and those looked after by local authorities can have high levels of housing needs. Research into the accommodation needs of young offenders indicated that children who have had or are in care represent 30% of those in housing need. It is estimated that around 40% of young people in custody have had some experience of the care system and can experience particular difficulties in accessing suitable accommodation on their release from custody - undermining resettlement and risking reoffending and a return to custody. On a related but separate point the YJB was supportive of the statement by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families in his speech to the Youth Justice Annual Convention in 2007 that consideration needs to be given as to whether all young people who leave custody should have the same kind of support as children leaving care in order to aid their resettlement and reduce the likelihood of their reoffending. The government subsequently announced in the Children's Plan that there will be a Green Paper on Resettlement in the youth justice system in 2008 that will include examining what can be learnt from the support offered to young people leaving care. The YJB is working with government departments on the development of the Green Paper.

 

15. Secure Children's Homes are used both for welfare based placements and for criminal justice placements made by the YJB and therefore there is an interdependence between the sectors with changes of use on one side potentially affecting the other. Alongside YJB commissioning processes for the secure estate, the DCSF is currently undertaking research looking at the future market for welfare places in Secure Children's Homes. As well as the very specific connection in relation to Secure Children's Homes, in general there are interdependencies in the provision of secure and semi-secure accommodation for the three categories of children that come into state secure care - via criminal justice, welfare and mental health routes. The evidence suggests that there is a considerable overlap between the profiles of the children that can be held in these different types of secure setting. We believe there should be a more consistent approach to all three groups than at present.

 

Intensive fostering in youth justice system

16. The Youth Justice Board Intensive Fostering programme is a relatively small project providing intensive fostering arrangements as an alternative to a custodial sentence. The evidence based model used is Multi-dimensional Treatment Foster Care which has shown success in working with children within the juvenile justice population in the USA. There are three Intensive Fostering pilot sites funded by the YJB providing individual foster placements and a clinical team that work with both the child and the family to improve the child's social skills and emotional control, while in parallel working with parents or carers, on improving their parenting skills.

 

17. The pilot is for the three years from March 2005. So far 39 children have received Intensive Fostering as part of their sentence with 19 children having completed the programme to date. Intensive Fostering is being evaluated by the University of York. The interim report in June 2007 showed a promising start albeit noting the small sample size. YJB welcomes that the government's Children Plan noted that there will be further work looking at alternatives to custody including intensive fostering

 

Evaluating the reforms

18. The wide ranging reforms to children's services and the specific measures being put in place for Looked-after children are welcomed by the YJB. Given the indication of a disproportionate relationship between being in care and involvement in the criminal justice system, YJB would welcome where possible that evaluations of the reforms measure the extent to which they are impacting on the involvement of offending as well as improving wider outcomes. To undertake the evaluation this may require further work establishing the full nature of relationship.

19. There is in general terms a strong case that children in care who come into contact with the youth justice system require a greater need for adequate long term support to improve their outcomes and prevent an escalation in offending behaviour. Short term custodial sentences can be very disruptive and destabilising and can particularly impact on this group and there is a pressing need to ensure the care system works effectively to intervene early and provide alternative interventions that avoid the need for custody and reduce the risk of offending and reoffending.

February 2008