The third research paper in the series, this project considers the impact of the pandemic on the relationships that Youth Offending Teams (‘YOTs’) have with their various statutory and local partners in Greater Manchester. The paper is delivered by the Manchester Centre for Youth Studies at Manchester Metropolitan University, together with the Alliance for Youth Justice and explores both the challenges and successes experienced by YOTs during the pandemic.
The report explores how YOTs’ partnerships were impacted by the pandemic. In addition to statutory partners (police, probation, local authorities and health services) YOTs work with a variety of stakeholders depending on local needs, including mental health services, substance misuse services and education providers. In the context of the national reports which have been written on the same topic, the paper examines whether the impacts in Greater Manchester were similar to, or differ from, the national outcomes.
There were some significant challenges presented by the pandemic, which were felt by some partnership arrangements more than others:
- Schools: maintaining partnerships with schools was difficult given school closures, particularly as individual policies differed greatly between institutions. Disruption was also experienced in relation to the additional education support YOT teams provide.
- Police: police faced significant pressure due to the Coronavirus Act 2020, with cases of children ‘released under investigation’ increasing (where investigations have no prescribed time limits) as well as ‘no further action’ cases (where no assessment of the child is carried out). YOT staff expressed concern about the effects these police practices are having on children. Police IT systems were also found to be disjointed in some cases, affecting information sharing with YOTs.
- Children’s Social Care (CSC) Services: the report differs from the national report in relation to its findings on CSC Services. YOT staff in Greater Manchester expressed concern around the support levels offered to children by CSC colleagues, as well as degraded communication and a reduction in co-operation. Social distancing, office closures and ‘work from home’ orders had a significant impact on YOT relationships with the CSC.
- Other: Social distancing meant that many organisations, particularly sporting partners, had to close down, and disruption was felt in the secondment model where YOT staff are seconded from ‘parent’ organisations and co-located in premises to improve joined-up services for children involved in the justice system.
There were also instances where the increased flexibility required by remote working has created efficiencies within partnership relationships:
- Multi-agency risk management meetings adapted to virtual platforms swiftly, with increased attendance and more streamlined decision-making.
- Increased comradery and support was also reported across a range of services and partnerships.
- Greater Manchester YOTs partnership management boards remained functional during the pandemic.
There will be societal implications for all children following the pandemic, however, the impact for children in the youth justice system will be particularly detrimental. A backlog of specialist health referrals reduced police operational decision making and differing procedures across educational providers has hindered the support available to children during the pandemic and will continue to present long-term challenges. It is therefore crucial for practitioners to be aware of the impacts the pandemic has had, particularly where a reduction in communication and/or co-operation between YOTs and their partners has led to children’s needs remaining unidentified. Practitioners should refer to this explicitly in mitigation where appropriate and highlight unmet needs to YOTs, police and Courts at all stages of the system.
Written by Charlotte Rice, Associate Solicitor, Paul Hastings Europe LLP
Although this report uses the phrase “Youth Offending Teams”, most local authorities are moving towards the more child-friendly term “Youth Justice Services”.