Circle Opinion

How do our youth justice system responses help or hinder trauma victims?

Marcus Le Brocq

Mitigating the impact of trauma in young people is central to helping them build resilience, trust and relationships. This starts with the professionals they come into contact with, from youth justice workers to social workers and teachers. Keeping track of this process is vital to it succeeding, but how does the existing system response across the professionals involved help or hinder it?

We recently hosted a panel discussion exploring how we can identify, assess and mitigate the impact of child trauma in young offenders. You can watch a replay here. One of the central themes was examining the role of the systems that the various professional bodies involved with a young offender have in place. Is there sufficient sharing of knowledge and experience? Is there a robust framework in place that puts the young person first?

With each body relying upon its own system to underpin its support of a young person, this can make things tricky, argues Sonia Blandford, CEO at Achievement for All. “There are so many layers in the systems and we tend to focus on what we know and understand,” she says. “There used to be an overarching record of every child – now we have information in silos. This means that our system responses are a hindrance.”

Siloed information and little shared understanding makes joining the dots in a multi-agency scenario very challenging. “In order to improve we need to keep it simple,” adds Sonia. “At the moment there are too many layers.”

It’s a point that Shaun Brown, programme director at The Difference, agrees with. “We need in place a chronology and understanding of children, especially vulnerable ones who will come into contact with youth offending services,” he says. “This is hindered by a misplaced fear of protecting privacy. When we restrict access to past information, we see only current information devoid of context. This leaves vulnerable children moving in and out of scope with their chronology becoming disconnected. When this happens, understanding gets lost and we are left constantly restarting the journey of each child. The way things are at the moment, the system response is geared towards single threads of need.”

Painting a clear picture and providing a holistic view to the professionals involved would represent a major step forward in improving outcomes for those young people in contact with youth offending services.

A system response which hinders the process of improving outcomes for young people in the youth justice system feeds into the wider notion around institutional trauma, something which many vulnerable children experience in the existing school system.

The notion of assessments has failure built into it.” argues Sonia. “We need to consider this carefully as assessments are constantly telling a lot of children that they are always bottom of the pile. That represents institutional trauma.”

Another aspect to the institutional response to these children is the school process of fixed term and permanent exclusions. “For some 14- and 15-year olds, the first time that are being diagnosed with severe educational disabilities is during the screening process with a youth offending team. Why? Because of school exclusions,” says Marius Frank, strategic lead for E-learning development and youth justice at Achievement for All. “This is driven by high stakes assessments and a results driven system. There is hope, however, since schools can build out different systems and curricula for their children. They can justify this to Ofsted and make a change.”

A more joined up, integrated approach across the various systems that young people meet would help. “I’m a big advocate of youth offending teams,” says Alex Chard, director at YCTS. “They host a wealth of information so can pick up on many different factors. They can recognise the history of a child. The number of looked after children in the criminal justice system tells its own story of societal discrimination.”

Youth offending teams are ideally positioned to provide valuable insights to other areas of the overarching system that looks after and monitors children. All professionals and bodies are doing their best, but a more integrated approach would ultimately benefit the children involved by helping to improve their outcomes.

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