Young offenders as victims…

6 key recommendations for youth justice...

About 3 hours in to my first day in a youth justice team, one thing became clear.

Most of these kids are victims too!

Photos courtesy of ©iStockphoto/Imgorthand & ©123rf/AlexanderRaths (adapted)

Photos courtesy of ©iStockphoto/Imgorthand & ©123rf/AlexanderRaths (adapted)

So how do we address the victim needs of young people who offend?

I was interviewed recently  as part of a new study. The research set out to scope existing services for young people who offend but also have victim needs.

It’s purpose was to make recommendations about how such needs can best be dealt with.

Here are the key recommendations:

1.  To accept the premise of this research and seek to increase service provision for emotional and mental health (EMH) needs of young people who have offended. Essentially, the youth justice system needs to wake up and smell the coffee! A significant percentage of young people who offend have needs relating to trauma and to unresolved EMH issues.

These include but are not limited to:

  • Being a victim – studies of young people who offend typically find higher levels of victimisation than they do of offending

    Image courtesy of ©Middlesex Univeristy

    Image courtesy of ©Middlesex University

  • Violence, crime and abuse  – these experiences are much higher amongst young people who have offended than amongst their non-offending peers

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  • Being in care – Young people in custody: this group consists of a disproportionately high number of young people who have been in the care system
  • Speech & language difficulties – these problems are much more frequent amongst young people in the youth justice system
  • Diagnosed learning disability – again, these problems occur far more often in YJ young people than the general population
  • Impaired cognitive & verbal communication skills – due to the neurological impact of traumatic life events
‘There is a wealth of evidence to indicate that the majority of children and young people in the youth justice system in England and Wales come from the most deprived and disadvantaged families and communities…’ (Office of the Children’s Commissioner, 2009:24)*

2.  Service provision needs to be tailored to individual needs. Group and manualised interventions have their place. But not with young people. And certainly not when mental health needs are the focus. Rigorous assessment is the key to identifying specific needs for specific children. ASSET is a very blunt – arguably useless -instrument and was never designed to deal with such issues. The new ASSETplus should be better and the CHAT better still – though both are time consuming and will require additional funding to ensure proper implementation and access to the kinds of services indicated as necessary….

Other recommendations flow out of this one:

3.  Better basic training for practitioners – other research has identified that YOT workers feel under-equipped to recognise and respond to needs relating to trauma and to emotional and mental health.

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4.  Assessment and screening be offered more than once – young people tend not to disclose their troubles easily (a bit like the rest of us!). They distrust adults and serially struggle with the CAMHS model of turn up or lose your chance. Assessing more than once allows the establishment of trust to increase openness and heighten the likelihood of disclosure.

5.  Buddy systems and mentoring may play a useful role – some of this happens already. But where attachment and trauma rooted problems exist, trust and relationship become more crucial to good engagement.

6.  Further research into existing attempts to meet these needs – there are a number of projects and models being trialled currently (including our own Trauma Recovery Model). More research is needed over the short and medium term to establish the efficacy of these efforts to prevent offending by this group of kids.

So there you have it. 6 clear recommendations for improving youth justice services!

Final word…

At a time when the numbers of young people entering the system is low, funding for youth justice will come under increasing scrutiny. Those young people who do remain in the system are the ones with more complex histories and greater needs.

Greater need requires consistent funding.

If the government really wants to reduce offending, it is imperative that resources are deployed to address the victimisation needs of this group.

What do you think?…

  • What is your key recommendation for improving youth justice?
  • Please let me know your thoughts…   Leave a comment below or click here.

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© Jonny Matthew 2015

*  Office of the Children’s Commissioner (2011) ‘I think I must have been born bad’: Emotional wellbeing and health of children and young people in the youth justice system, London: OCC

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