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YEF publishes action plan to cut youth offending

Key changes are needed in police and youth justice practices to reduce youth offending, according to new recommendations from the Youth Endowment Fund (YEF).

In its new guidance report, the YEF makes seven recommendations to improve support for children who are arrested and are at a critical point in their lives. It focuses on incentivising the police to use pre-court diversion schemes, enhancing the effectiveness of the support offered and minimising referral times. The charity advocates for swift action and will push to ensure children receive appropriate support within four weeks of their arrest.

The YEF’s recommendations are based on findings from systematic reviews. They also draw on extensive consultations with practitioners, young people with lived experience and senior leaders from across children’s services and the criminal justice system. Organisations consulted include the Youth Justice Board, HM Inspectorate of Probation and the Office of the Children’s Commissioner.

Pre-court diversion schemes work by finding alternatives to formal criminal justice proceedings for children arrested for low-level or first-time offences. Research from the YEF Toolkit shows that – on average – it reduces reoffending by 13% and reduces the severity of future offences.

Despite its promise to reduce offending, the YEF highlights that the police currently lack the incentive to use certain pre-court diversion schemes when they might cut crime. Currently, when a child completes diversionary, educational or intervention activity – instead of receiving a formal sanction [known as Outcome 22] – this is not recorded as a positive outcome in the Crime Outcomes framework.

The charity also found inconsistencies in the appropriateness of the support offered to arrested children. This is partly due to variations in local funding, and police and youth justice services staff not having access to the latest research on what support is most likely to help. Referrals to pre-court diversion schemes can also be slow due to unclear referral pathways and the complexities of different agencies working together.

The YEF’s seven recommendations will tackle these issues head-on. They will serve as the cornerstone of the charity’s work for change within the youth justice system for the next five years. The organisation will collaborate closely with the government, police, youth justice services and relevant agencies to put its findings into action.

The YEF recommends…

  1. Police have the incentives to use diversion – this means updating the crime outcomes reporting framework so that Outcome 22 is recorded as a positive outcome when applied to children.
  2. Police are confident in responding to vulnerable children – each arrest of a child should be treated as a safeguarding opportunity to identify those who are vulnerable or being exploited.
  3. Funding reflects needs – the current funding formula for youth justice services is out-of-date and does not properly reflect informal diversionary work to reduce re-offending or target it in the most important areas.
  4. Fast and effective referrals – arrested children should receive support quickly, normally within four weeks of arrest.
  5. Prioritise what works –youth justice services, policing staff and other partners should be confident on which approaches are most likely to help a child stay safe.
  6. Access to therapy – children who are arrested should be able to get access to therapy when they need it.
  7. Better data –there should be clear data on how many children receive support after arrest and what sort of support they receive.

The YEF’s recent research also highlights the need for more robust support for children who become involved in violence. The findings reveal that among teenagers who said they had committed a violent act that led to physical injury, only 1 in 10 (9%) were offered support or training to prevent it from happening again.

Jon Yates, Executive Director at the Youth Endowment Fund: “Evidence shows that supporting children when they are arrested – and are at a critical moment in their life – reduces offending. Pre-court diversion is not about being ‘soft on crime’, it’s about being ‘smart on crime’. If there are interventions that have been shown to improve the life chances of children, make our communities safer and reduce the burden on the public purse, it’s in everyone’s best interests to follow the evidence.

He adds: “Much of the YEF’s work for the first four years of our existence has been focused on the first part of our mission – to find what works to prevent children becoming involved in violence. These recommendations mark an important step forward to deliver on the second part – to build a movement to put what we learn into action. We’ll use evidence to identify what needs to change. Then work with others to push for improvements in the practices, policies and systems which impact how, when and why vulnerable children are supported.”

To download the report and read the YEF’s recommendations, please click here.