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Tagged In:  Probation, Youth Offending
As the government’s impending spending review dominates the mindset of youth justice strategists, we take a look at the Youth Justice Board’s (YJB) stocktake of Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) and consider how the findings might shape the future of the YOT estate.

It’s been an exceptionally busy 12 months for youth offending professionals as the Transforming Rehabilitation changes continue at a pace. The second tranche of junior attendance centres have now transferred over from the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) to local authorities, and a significant amount of work is being carried out with the National Probation Service (NPS). This is expected to help the YJB calculate the baseline contribution of probation staff to youth offending team resourcing.

Stocktake highlights YOTs’ strengths

Findings from a research report carried out by Deloitte under the instruction of the Youth Justice Policy Unit in the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), highlights a number of positives across the YOT estate. These are in many ways unique to YOTs given their holistic approach to working with young people. 

The report published this Summer found all YOTs deliver what it calls ‘care statutory duties’ in response to formal disposals and they have significant autonomy to try new interventions. Few reported financial pressures preventing this. 

Painting a broader picture of the youth justice landscape, the number of proven offenders and re-offenders has fallen from nearly 140,000 to less than 50,000.  Partner agencies largely credit YOTs for enabling positive outcomes for young people, such as participation in education, employment and training. 

Of course, in reality it’s much more difficult to establish the exact reasons behind this fall – it is virtually impossible to measure. 

Limitations with assessing ‘value for money’

There is also a discrepancy on what YOTs do and how they are measured by the Ministry of Justice MoJ. By Deloitte’s own admission, this makes assessment of performance and value for money difficult to establish. This in turn is likely to cause considerable difficulties with regards to any savings the YOT estate is expected to make as a result of the Spending Review this November. 

This is largely to do with the fact that YOTs focus on the individual as a person rather than as an offender. 

The report shows that the demand for interventions in response to formal disposals is on the decline, but YOTs report increasing complexity of needs for the young people they deal with. The research suggests that it is unclear if the increased complexity is a genuine phenomenon or if it is a result of YOTs’ assessment tools being much more sophisticated then they were several years ago. This in itself will need to be looked at in much more depth prior to any future proposals to reform youth offending. 

From a broader perspective, there are a number of issues with how performance is currently monitored. The report concludes that the current performance indicators are far too narrow and do not fully consider the differences between YOTs with regards to the nature of their demand and local demographics. This makes meaningful benchmarking extremely difficult.

The skill set of today’s Youth Offending Team

With the reported increase in complexity of needs, we were not surprised to hear that around a quarter of the YOT workforce hold professional qualifications to deliver more advanced interventions and work with less supervision. 

We were also witnessing a growing number of YOT professionals transferring over from partner agencies, whether on a secondment or permanent basis. 

Increasingly, a broad range of interventions are outsourced to third parties by YOTs; the most frequent of which is substance misuse. There’s also a much closer working relationship with voluntary organisations, which varies considerably depending on locality. 

Making services regional

Deloitte’s researchers found there was not much in the way of duplication of services and that only 15% of YOTs operate on a standalone basis. Many are now integrated into children’s services and work on cross-departmental policies, such as Troubled Families, albeit on a localised basis.  

Where services are not in high demand, for example Intensive Supervision and Surveillance, the report recommends offering services in regional teams.

What is less clear though is whether the YOT estate would benefit from a broader ‘economies of scale’ approach. The report’s sample of 20 YOTs, shows a significant variation in individual YOTs’ unit costs.  Early indications suggest that there is no direct correlation between size of YOT and unit cost. This, the researchers emphasis implies ‘larger YOTs are not necessarily more efficient’. Not only this, there’s a real appreciation for preserving localised teams. 

The report makes it absolutely clear that ‘the local model with close partnership working is one of the real strengths of the existing model and any reforms should seek to retain this, whilst also addressing its limitations.’

This is a good point. As a recruiter of youth offending professionals, we understand that the local model is highly valued by staff.  As the findings suggest, this approach enables YOTs to better understand the young people they work with and allows them to be located in geographies that best service their support needs. 

What we are more likely to see is not a step away from the ‘local approach’ but more sharing of success between localities. Deloitte recommends a new multi-dimensional approach to YOT categorisation. In other words, policy makers would be able to prioritise categories of young offenders and use the new grouping to identify ‘best in class’ YOTs to support other YOTs. 

With the growing pressure from the government to cut the deficit, the youth justice system will certainly not be immune from the pressure to make considerable savings. There’s every indication the YJB will be forced to make further funding reductions above and beyond the 14% already held back midway through this year. 

We just hope that any cuts take into account the wider role youth justice officers play in non-statutory work such as crime prevention; a point strongly made by the Association of Youth Offending Team Managers
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