A young person isn’t doing what their court order requires. So do we breach them or not?

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This is a question I get asked quite a lot. It’s a really good one, because it cuts to the heart of what youth justice is all about:

                            How do we best help troubled kids to recover and live crime-free lives?

The notion of breach came up in a few of the cases when we were testing the Enhanced Case Management (ECM) in practice in 3 YOTs across Wales.

The ECM is the application of the Trauma Recovery Model into YOT practice in the community.

I’ve answered a number of email enquiries about this too, so have put those together here as a brief guide to our thinking and practice – hope it helps!

To breach or not to breach?…

  • We still breached young people

Despite the emphasis on the relational aspects of engaging young people, we did not rule out the use of breach procedures. We felt it was important to retain this as an option, even though National Standards can be suspended.
Young people may well need a more flexible approach, particularly the most complex and damaged kids, but there is still very much a need for there to be boundaries in place.
So, in terms of the overall structure of the work, we maintained the option of breach and young people were still made aware of this in the usual way.

  • Considered decision-making is key

Most YOTs have in place procedures to properly consider the use of breach – rather than just running the text book and using it automatically in every case.

We would encourage the use of some kind of care planning forum – a multi-agency way of considering and deciding on the use of breach. I’m guessing you will have such a mechanism in place anyway, but it’s worth reinforcing that this is good practice and should be maintained, even when dealing with particularly troubled young people.

Stuck with what to do with a troubled child or young person? Help is at hand – click here…

  • Inclusion of clinical opinion

When thinking about breach, we strongly encouraged the test YOTs to incorporate the views of the test psychologist and to add these views into the mix of breach consideration.
When it comes to the practicalities of ‘defensible decision-making’ having a clinical opinion as part of it can really help. YOTs still have the final say, of course, but having a more objective and clinically-based view of the child and the impact of any potential breach can only help the process.

  • Young person’s interests

We felt that the principal driving factor in breach decision-making should be the interests of the child involved; particularly how breach might influence their progress (or not!).
For some, breach (and the process that precedes it) could act as a useful additional incentive to cajole them in the right direction.
For others, breach might be counter-productive – feeling like a rejection, for example – at a time when they principally need inclusion and encouragement and/or where breach might undermine a fledgling, but positive, relationship with a worker.

So, I guess the key question in all this is: how will breach influence the progress of the young person?

  • Public protection

The only thing that trumps the young person’s interests, is public protection.
If the nature of their behaviour is such that not breaching would be to put the public at imminent and significant risk, then probably best to default to breach. At least if the process is initiated, proper thought can be given to the situation and defensible decisions arrived at together.

After all, there may still be a way of balancing everyone’s interests…

  • Professional discretion

Here’s the rub – it’s up to youth justice professionals to know the child/family, to assess the circumstances, the reasons and possible other factors influencing non-compliance and make a judgment call.
Where an aspect of the order is not ‘workable’ we should be considering going back to court – NOT to breach the young person, but to vary the order…

8.16 Where, in the case manager’s judgment , circumstances have changed to such a degree that one or more YRO requirements are no longer workable, the order must be returned to court for amendment under the relevant statutory procedures.

(National Standards for Youth Justice Services, 2013, p.30)

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The principal driving factor in breach decision-making should be the interests of the child involved.

Final word…

I know most of you in youth justice will know this stuff and be doing these things – in one way or another – anyway.

But I hope having these pointers in one place will encourage you to do the best thing for the child.

Sometimes that will mean breach. Sometimes it won’t.

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What do you think?…

  • What do you think about all this? Do you have anything to add to this list?
  • Please let me know your thoughts… Leave a comment below or click here.

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