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ADCS, AYM and the LGA publish new youth justice policy position...

ADCS, AYM and the LGA publish new youth justice policy position paper

Today, Thursday 25 November, service, strategic and political leaders in local government publish a joint policy position paper on youth justice, calling for a move towards a more localised, responsive and child-centred system in the future.

Whilst huge progress has been made in recent years in reducing numbers of children in contact with the youth justice system, significant challenges in both policy and practice remain. Children in care, from Black and minority ethnic backgrounds and with special educational needs are increasingly overrepresented in the system. Urgent action is required to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children who are in custody and a greater focus on prevention efforts in the community is needed so that more children can be diverted away from the system.

ADCS, AYM and the LGA believes a Panorama investigation exposing unacceptable staff behaviours and inappropriate restraint at Medway Secure Training Centre in 2016 should have been a turning point, it was not. Multiple reviews, inquiries and reports have been undertaken in the last five years generating hundreds of recommendations for change, yet many issues remain or have worsened during the pandemic. Regulation, frameworks and guidance for youth justice services continue to focus heavily on risk and offences rather than children’s needs and outcomes and national governance and oversight arrangements continue to be a concern.

The Paper sets out the case for a new approach, drawing on issues and challenges as well as opportunities for meaningful change, not least the ongoing reviews into special educational needs and children’s social care. The Paper identifies a series of quick wins to improve children’s experiences and outcomes. These include: better information sharing between police and local authorities, changes to court arrangements and a long overdue review of the age of criminal responsibility in the UK, which at 10 years old is the lowest in Europe. Adopting a public health approach to youth justice and childhood vulnerability, focussing on the journey of the child rather than departmental boundaries in order to prevent children falling through the gaps, is the principle long term ask.

Charlotte Ramsden, President of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said: “Children who are in conflict with the law continue to be treated very differently to other vulnerable groups even though they have similarly complex needs. Many have been exposed to repeated and extended trauma, such as bereavement and family breakdown. A growing number of children are being groomed, coerced and exploited by criminal gangs yet the youth justice system works with children as ‘offenders’.

“The shocking deterioration in both conditions and performance in parts of the custodial estate evidenced in consecutive inspection reports is perhaps the starkest illustration of the disconnect between a ‘child first’ rhetoric and reality. It is simply unimaginable that any other area of services for children could be allowed to fester and worsen without significant intervention from the Department for Education.

“We need to work differently with children, their families and communities, and agencies, including government departments must work differently too, under the banner of a single, cross cutting strategy. We must improve the experiences and outcomes of children who are already in the system whilst acting on the reasons why children are more susceptible to crime, such as poverty and deprivation. We simply cannot carry on as we are.”

Hazel Williamson, AYM Chair, said: “We are pleased to have worked with ADCS to develop this position paper which we feel captures the salient points associated with youth justice provision; we consider this to be a good foundation from which to identify developments to support further improvements for the future and improve outcomes for children to prevent them entering the criminal justice arena.”

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Councils are determined to do all they can to protect young people and keep them safe but their efforts are being seriously hampered by a lack of clarity surrounding funding, policies and strategy for young people in the justice system.

“If we are to incorporate a ‘child first approach’ as advocated by the Youth Justice Board, there needs to be significant changes in the existing system.

“It is essential to build on the good work of councils in preventing children from coming into the justice system, but the recent failures in the secure estate and the experience of young people during the pandemic shows how the system is letting some young people down. Rapid action is required to change those aspects of the system that are not working and which are having a significant impact on the outcomes of some of the most vulnerable children and young people.”


The Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) Ltd is the professional leadership association for Directors of Children’s Services and their senior management teams in England.

The AYM (Association of YOT Managers) is a professional association representing the majority of Youth Offending Teams (YOT’s)/Youth Justice Services and their Managers in England. Our members work within the youth justice sector and run services providing community-based supervision for children and young people who offend and prevention services for those at risk of offending through a ‘Child First’ model of practice. We also work with children in custody and liaise closely with staff in the youth secure estate to ensure that children and young people receiving custody experience as smooth a transition as possible, both within custody and their subsequent resettlement back in to the community.

The Local Government Association (LGA) is the national voice of local government, working with councils to support, promote and improve local government. The LGA is a politically-led, cross party organisation which works on behalf of councils to ensure local government has a strong, credible voice with national government.

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