Probation watchdog hands Surrey youth offending service lowest possible rating

A youth offending service has been rated inadequate over failings in its work with child criminals.

The probation watchdog’s lowest possible rating places Surrey youth offending service – which works with the county’s 10 to 18-year-old criminals – in the bottom 10% for the sector and “indicated the need for very substantial improvement”.

Practice was poor in many areas, with the needs of children involved in, or at risk of, offending not being properly understood or responded to, an inspection found.

Chief inspector of probation Justin Russell, who made a string of recommendations for improvement, said: “The service uses a mix of different systems to record and track information about children and young people who are involved in offending or at risk of committing crimes.

“As these are all separate systems, senior leaders do not have a complete picture of these children and so are failing to deliver a service to meet their needs.

“We found a need for very substantial improvement.”

Inspectors also found the way out-of-court cases were handled by the service was “of serious concern”.

Mr Russell said: “It is legitimate for youth offending teams to use diversion schemes and they can work well.

“However, there need to be solid principles in place that strike the right balance between public protection and ensuring children and young people are not charged unnecessarily.

“In Surrey, the process for out-of-court cases is poor and inconsistent.”

Inspectors also found:

  • Assessments were “insufficient” in more than half of the inspected cases and did not analyse why the individual committed the offence or what would help to change their behaviour.
  • There was “no clear rationale” to explain why not all children were being assessed.
  • Staff “did not always record or under-estimated the level of risk that children and young people could pose to others”.

Mr Russell said: “Worryingly, the service does not have a limit for the number of times children and young people can be diverted from the courts. We saw cases involving people who had committed several – and sometimes quite serious – offences, without being charged.

“Staff involved in making decisions about out-of-court cases did not have clear policies and guidance in place. They did not pay appropriate attention to the gravity of the offence and looked at offences in isolation rather than as part of a wider pattern of behaviour.”

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