Youth offender services ‘urgently need guidance to curb knife crime’ – inspectors

Youth offender services urgently need Government guidance to help curb knife crime and county lines drug dealing, inspectors have said.

HM Inspectorate of Probation expressed concern over “a lack of national direction” on work with young knife crime offenders and “a deeply concerning lack of awareness” on how some services handle county lines cases.

In a new inspection report published on Tuesday, inspectors said staff supervising the cases of 10 to 18-year-olds needed to be given the skills and information to identify and support children at risk of county lines exploitation.

They also said youth offending teams (YOTs) should receive an “accessible and practical knife crime briefing” to help plan their response.

Preliminary findings from a survey of services showed that while nearly nine out of 10 provided knife crime interventions for young people, only 29% had formally evaluated the programmes.

About 85% of services said they supervised young people who were victims of knife crime, while almost 60% believed knife crime was increasing in their area.

Inspectors praised “heroic efforts” by some teams to counter county lines offending, but were concerned by work in other regions.

Chief inspector of probation Justin Russell, who has been in post since June, said: “These networks typically involve gangs, violence and exploitation, and have a significant impact on children and young people, their families and communities.

“Yet there is a dearth of national guidance for youth offending services to spot and address this type of crime.”

Inspectors looked at the work of 26 youth offending services over the past 12 months.

They rated three services as “outstanding”, 12 as “good”, eight as “requires improvement” and three were “inadequate”.

East Riding Youth Offending Team in the Yorkshire and Humberside region received an outstanding rating across all 12 categories being assessed.

Services in Blackpool, Surrey and Western Bay in South Wales were all rated as inadequate.

Inspectors said a fall in the number of young offenders entering the court system for the first time may not be helping to tackle harmful behaviour.

They found YOTs were taking an “inconsistent” approach to supervising and supporting young people who had committed minor crimes.

Their findings revealed that some young offenders being dealt with out of court, such as through youth cautions or a community resolution, were being poorly assessed and lacked good educational provision.

In 2018, there were 14,373 first-time entrants (FTE) to the youth justice system – an 86% reduction from 100,464 in 2008.

Children and young people can be diverted from the courts to avoid labelling and any negative impacts of being involved in the system.

But inspectors found there was “no correlation between the local FTE (or reoffending rates) and our judgment about the quality of the youth offending service”.

The report warned: “Reducing first-time entrant rates may not necessarily mean the anti-social or other harmful behaviours are decreasing too.”

Mr Russell said out-of-court diversions can be positive for young people and the public by encouraging offenders to apologise or make reparations.

But he added: “Some services were too punitive, while others were too lenient or too inconsistent.

“This has led to a postcode lottery, where young people face different outcomes depending on where they live.”

Poor education provision for children who have offended was cited as a particular concern in the report.

Mr Russell said: “All children are legally entitled to receive an education, but we found examples of children known to youth offending services receiving little or no education at all.

“With time on their hands, some children are committing offences during school hours or are at risk of being groomed or enticed into crime.”

A Government spokesman said: “The Government is providing over £220 million through early intervention projects to prevent children being drawn into violent crime and we have today published new guidance for youth workers to ensure they can protect children from the devious tactics of county lines gangs.

“We are also working closely with the Youth Justice Board which has recently reviewed the use of Out of Court disposals and will shortly be producing new guidance to ensure they are used consistently across the country.”

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