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Youth justice workers may be more effective in supporting younger people stay away from crime if they gain a better understanding of social media, according to a new report from HM Chief Inspector of Probation Dame Glenys Stacey.

In it, she suggests that professionals in youth offending teams (YOTs) use their powers to monitor its use to help prevent crimes, which are often now “planned in bedrooms” on phones, tablets and computers “rather than on street corners.” This could also help inform the work of those in probation jobs and substance misuse specialists.

She also said the public can be better protected from dangerous and violent young offenders if adults working with them are trained to understand the trauma in their childhoods.

Difficult job for youth offending teams

The report, The Work of Youth Offending Teams to Protect the Public, acknowledged the difficult nature of the job and found that YOTs were “protecting the public well” and doing good work to change young people’s lives for the better.

Despite this, Dame Glenys felt ensuring that ‘trauma-informed’ youth offending work and sharper understanding of the social media dimension of offending could drive further improvement.

Trauma-informed practice

Some 81% of the 115 young people sampled for the study had experienced trauma or adverse events in their lives, while 31% had grown up in households with a record of domestic abuse.

While the number of new offenders on statutory orders has fallen by 84% in the last decade and young people in custody is down 71%, the fewer young people YOT practitioners are working with have more complex needs.

Many have experienced separation and estrangement from parents; the death of a parent or carer; sexual abuse; severe physical chastisement; serial domestic abuse; and parental substance misuse.

Social media catalyst for crime

Social media – often lesser known sites - was found to be the catalyst in a quarter (23%) of the cases examined with young people using coded language to communicate.
Some of the most serious offences were triggered by arguments starting on social media and escalating into streets incidents; the use of blackmail and indecent images; and gangs using social media to challenge rival groups.

Dame Glenys said: “This is new behaviour and YOTs need help to catch up with social media-related crime.”

The report recommends, YOTs adopt trauma-informed practice and monitor the social media output of young people who pose a risk to others, while the Youth Justice Board should provide practical guidance that enables YOTs to take proper account of the impact of trauma in young people’s lives. YOT management boards were urged to review their understanding of social media and young people, and their policy and practice guidance for staff to monitor young people’s social media activity.
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