Why the brain matters in youth justice…

Neuro-disability: what it is & what to do about it...

The very first youth justice case I had, involved brain injury.

It took me the best part two years to discover this, by which time it was too late. The lad went to custody. Needlessly.

Sketch - Brain matters in YJ

Image courtesy of ©123rf/likewise

So it’s crucial that those working with all troubled teenagers know a bit about neuro-disability…

Here’s a summary of the issues…

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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?

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The master key – unlocking troubled young people…

I’ll never forget my very first case as a youth justice social worker.

Image - key...

Photo courtesy of ©iStoclphoto/Darkcyde

My boss called me in, gave me the lad’s name and said I’d be taking over the case from a colleague.

I left his office feeling elated. Fresh out of college, I finally had my first young person to work with.

What struck me even more was when I told my colleagues in the team room which young person it was – they all laughed!

20 plus years later I know why. Others had tried with this lad. Now it was my turn!

The key to unlocking those tough cases…

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Troubled youth: re-writing the ending…

Once upon a time...

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/CharlieAJA

One of the highlights of my week is watching a film with my son on the weekend. It’s great!

But every now and again, it isn’t. The film is predictable – we know what’s likely to happen next and can guess the end.

It struck me recently that working with troubled young people can be similar to this. But in a good way – we have a chance to change the ending, to make it unpredictable.

Many people (the press, Joe Public) respond to them by assuming that the end is set in stone. That these kids are destined to fail.

But it doesn’t have to be like that…

Re-writing the ending…

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Girls in gangs: what do we know, what are the risks?…

Gang girl

If you’re like me, when you think of gangs, you don’t think of girls.

Groups of young men in hoodies, maybe. But not girls.

Girls in gangs certainly isn’t new. But it is something that we are just beginning to understand.

In May 2013, the Centre for Mental Health published their report, “A Need to Belong – What Leads Girls to Join Gangs?” 

The following post is a summary of aspects of that report. It’s a combination of précis, paraphrase and verbatim repetition of the original work. The work is attributable to the authors of The Report.

So what is a gang and what do we know about girls in gangs…?

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Child Protection & Organisational Safety…

ImageNOTA is hosting a one day conference in the midlands on the 20 June 2013, to explore the the theory, research and practice related to child protection and organisational safety.  Speakers include Marcus Erooga, Donald Findlater and Joe Sullivan.

The conference is being organised to to develop understanding of the abuse of children and young people by people in positions of organisational trust, and how this understanding can improve prevention, intervention and treatment efforts.

  • KEYNOTE 1 – Situational Prevention – What are the Lessons being Learned by Organisations that work with Children about the Prevention of Sexual Abuse? Donald Findlater, Director of Research and Development, Lucy Faithfull Foundation; Sexual Abuse Prevention Campaign, Stop It Now! UK & Ireland
  • KEYNOTE 2 – Inside the Minds of Professionals who Sexually Molest the Children with Whom they Work. Dr Joe Sullivan, Director of Behaviour Analysis & Forensic Psychology, Mentor Forensic Services, Cork, Ireland
  • KEYNOTE 3 – Creating Safer Organisations: Practical Implications of Research about Abuse in Professional Settings. Marcus Erooga, Independent Child Protection Consultant, Visiting Research Fellow, Centre for Applied Childhood Studies, University of Huddersfield and Associate Editor, Journal of Sexual Aggression

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A Gaping HOLE in the WHOLE System Approach…?


As anticipated in my previous post, the make up of the new Criminal Justice Board (CJB) is missing vital ingredients – anyone speaking for offender needs and perspectives.

After well over 20 years of working with young offenders, it’s clear to me that whilst some seem to be “hardened” and resistant to change, many would welcome more help to turn things around, put things right and get on track towards a crime-free life.

Even a cursory read of the various aims and mission statements of the organisations sitting on the CRB would reveal that their aims are exactly the same – to reduce offending, particularly re-offending.  So we’re all agreed: less crime is a good thing.

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Wales Youth Justice Facts…

WAG Green Paper

The responses to the Welsh Assembly Government Green Paper on improving youth justice services for young people in Wales were submitted on the 11th December 2012.

My own view is that this should take a more overtly welfare and treatment-related approach.

Children and young people don’t usually offend, and certainly not prolifically, if they’ve had a stable and caring upbringing. We can assume, therefore, that these children (and children they are!) have not had the usual advantages that divert the majority from crime. Thus, if we are to help them to recover and apply the interventions necessary to avert re-offending, we must target the developmental factors that fuel aberrant behaviour.

I have posted my own response to the green paper, separately here. This outlines specific proposals to strengthen youth justice interventions, orientate services on a more welfare/developmental footing and base all work around fuller, more clinical assessments.

In addition, I have decided to post on Twitter (@JonnyMatthew) a series of data posts. These are data bites about a cohort of 303 Welsh young people who offended prolifically; this means they committed more than 25 offences. The facts are taken from Annex A of the green paper – based on a study undertaken by the Welsh Division of the Youth Justice Board. My hope is that these will help to emphasise the imperative for a more needs-based, multi-agency approach…

© Jonny Matthew 2013