Circle Insights

Johnny’s Story – the importance of early intervention and trauma informed practice

Marcus Le Brocq

Not so long ago CACI produced a video titled Walk in Their Shoes: Johnny’s Story. You can watch it here. It follows the typical journey of a young person brought up in adverse circumstances, tracking a story everyone involved in youth justice and many in education will be familiar with. The relentless churn of life, the destructive tendencies this realises then the horrific prospect of where this can, at its worst, lead. The topics of early intervention and trauma informed practice crop up often, but how much ground has really been covered?

Yesterday’s issues still exist today. School exclusions still happen as a result of schools being ill-equipped to manage the manifestation of trauma in such children as Johnny. They move from school to school, home to home, experiencing instability at every turn. This leads to disjointed record keeping and tracking of their journey. Different schools approach things in different ways. The transition to different local authorities results in intervention from different youth justice teams. This means more people coming and going and the going over of old ground.

How can trauma informed practice change Johnny’s Story?

It’s one thing realising an issue, quite another solving it. To fully understand the journey that any young person has been on, joined-up record keeping and a consistent thread of information is vital. As the young person moves from school to school and/or area to area, it is important that their information is appropriately shared with their next school or local authority. If it’s not, context is lost. Trauma informed practice is impossible without knowledge of events in a young person’s life.

Joined up record keeping is crucial in even the most vanilla of journeys. Where youth justice teams are involved, the context of the journey is even more so. If a young person arrives with limited information, then it necessitates the going over of old ground with them. Repetition of questions limits responses and creates mistrust in the services that are there to help them improve their outcomes. This limits the opportunities for trauma informed practice.

YOTs are seeing just over 8,000 new children (aged 10-17) entering their services every year. Consistent and reliable record keeping helps them to process these vulnerable young people. Services can then focus on achieving the best possible outcomes for them.

The most dramatic aspect of Johnny’s Story, of course, is the fact that he commits a murder. Thankfully, this isn’t a common occurrence, but young people possessing weapons still is. There were just under 3,500 knife or offensive weapons offences in the 2021/22 reporting period. This shows the prevalence of young people in vulnerable positions carrying weapons that can result in loss of life. As Johnny’s Story serves to highlight, such weapons are carried for protection rather than intent, but it only takes a moment for that to change.

Are things heading in the right direction?

The good news is that the number of such offences – the carrying of offensive weapons – has fallen from a high of 4,500 in 2017/18. Similarly, the number of new children entering the services of YOTs has fallen 10% year on year and is down 78% on the 2011/12 period which saw a record high. There has been a steady downward trajectory ever since.

Whilst these are encouraging figures which clearly demonstrate that the hard work of YOTs, local authority leaders and police is working, there are other areas of concern.

The latest data published 18 May 2023 by the government shows that, “Local authorities identified an estimated 94,900 children missing education, that is not registered at school or otherwise receiving suitable education, at some point during the 2021/22 academic year.” Estimates, however, vary as to the exact number depending upon differing definitions of missing school, as you’ll see in the National Youth Agency document in the next section.

This is another area where joined-up thinking and a consistent and reliable thread of data are vital. Local authorities have an obligation to check up on children who are not being educated at school and are being electively home educated. Schools must inform the authority if a child is excluded, so there is an onus on the authority to follow up on such cases.

It is clear that many are falling through the cracks. The Covid pandemic undoubtedly played a role, with many children not turning up again when children returned to schools in September 2020. This leaves such young people open to the threat of exploitation.

How young people like those in Johnny’s Story can become exploited

The most prominent of this exploitation is County Lines drug dealing activities. Gang activity is central to Johnny’s Story and is something that offers many vulnerable young people an identity and a perceived escape from their position. Exact numbers are impossible to come by, but notable estimates exist as to how many young people are involved in County Lines activities.

The National Youth Agency summarises the estimates on page four of this document. They cite data from the Home Office that c.27,000 young people are involved in County Lines, with The Children’s Society estimating that 4,000 of those are in London alone. Of course, estimates again vary here. The Children’s Commissioner noted in a Channel 4 documentary Britain’s Child Drug Runners (sadly no longer available on the channel’s streaming service) that 50,000 children are involved. Either way, it’s an unacceptably high number and represents a significant challenge.

Early intervention is vital in improving Johnny’s Story

The advantage of a joined-up record extends beyond the individual. Identifying patterns from a culmination of journeys can play a crucial role in early intervention. By the time vulnerable young people are involved in activities such as County Lines, it’s all but too late. Identifying their vulnerability in advance of reaching that stage is where stories such as Johnny’s can really be turned around.

Technology is fundamental to this. Where manual records are kept, information becomes siloed into teams and, worse, individuals. Maintaining transparent, up to date records helps keep YOT workers and their teams informed of each journey of each young person in their services. Then, if they move on, either the worker or the young person, the record can be shared with the next YOT worker involved in the case, furnishing them with knowledge and understanding of that case straight away.

Systems such as CACI’s ChildView facilitate the full case data transfer of files when a young person moves on from a service. This means that their next locality has vital context regarding the case immediately. YOTs working in tandem with one another creates a rich tapestry of information at an individual and holistic level. This will help to inform one another of best practices and create data mapping that can be used to inform better practice interventions in the future.


Johnny’s Story is grimly familiar to so many of you. Maybe not all of it, but so many vulnerable young people have experienced at least part of it. From constantly moving home, having different adults in their lives all the time, failing to settle at school and getting shunted from one to the other, lashing out in the form of petty crime and damaging public property, to seeking identity and purpose in gang-related activities; it is a very easy trap for them to fall into.

The good news is that things are improving. There is greater awareness of the issues facing these young people and the burgeoning area of trauma informed practice, for example, promises a better informed future roadmap of service responses. Each authority needs to be interoperable with every other, however, to truly open the door to fully informed practices and services.

Technology will facilitate this. In order to avoid the constant repetition of Johnny’s Story, it’s vital that authorities and YOTs embrace the possibilities.

For more information on ChildView, please click here.

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Marcus Le Brocq