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Youth Justice Board publishes statistics that reveal the key concerns of sentenced children

Youth Justice Board – Assessing the needs of sentenced children in the Youth Justice System 2019/2020  

On 28 January 2021, the Youth Justice Board (YJB) published a second set of experimental statistics with the aim of improving the understanding of the complex and interrelated needs of sentenced children and young people. For the purposes of the report, a sentenced child is one who received a Referral Order, Reparation Order, Youth Rehabilitation Order or custodial sentence between 1st April 2019 and 31st March 2020.

Broadly speaking, the statistics examine: (i) ‘concerns’; (ii) care history; (iii) risk of serious harm / safety and wellbeing; and (iv) for the first time, categories of factors affecting desistance from offending. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the statistics demonstrate that the number of identified ‘concerns’ that each child had increased with the severity of sentence received, with the greatest number of ‘concerns’ present for those in custody.

The most prominent ‘concern’ identified was safety and wellbeing, which looks at the risk that a child’s safety and wellbeing is now (or in the future) potentially compromised through his or her own behaviour, personal circumstances or because of the acts or omissions of others. The second most prominent ‘concern’ cited was risk to others; meaning the child’s risk to others.

Details

The experimental statistics published by YJB are extracted from data captured within the case management systems used by Youth Offending Teams (YOTs). The statistics focus on four areas: (i) high-level ‘concerns’; (ii) care status; (iii) safety and wellbeing / risk of serious harm; and (iv) desistance factors.

Although the publication of these statistics is to be welcomed, we must be mindful that they are based on youth justice practitioner judgements of children and are subject to a degree of subjectivity. That said, the data is extracted from AssetPlus, the common assessment framework used by the vast majority of YOTs around the country, and as such we may be confident that the data collected forms a cohesive statistical analysis across different demographics, sentence types, and ‘concerns’ recorded.

However there are limitations to the data, including the fact that the significantly more detailed information which YOT practitioners record is not available to the YJB. Consequently, the data is high-level and unspecific about the details underlying the ‘concerns’ recorded (for example, where ‘Substance Misuse’ is identified as a ‘concern’, we cannot tell whether it relates to tobacco or class A drugs). As such, caution should be taken when interpreting the data.

Ultimately, the experimental statistics represent a highly useful tool in assessing the complex needs of sentenced children and will assist stakeholders in responding to those needs more effectively. Their publication is to be welcomed.

‘Concerns’

The assessment framework is constructed around ‘concern’ types, which refer to factors that practitioners within the YOTs judge to be affecting the child. The types of ‘concerns’ cover the child’s wellbeing, how they relate to other people, social factors and issues at home or their own behaviours.

At a high-level, the published data shows a large proportion of sentenced children had ‘concerns’ present across most ‘concern’ types (though the data collected does not capture the extent or precise nature of these ‘concerns’). This provides a strong indication of the vulnerability and complex needs of sentenced children within the Youth Justice System. For five of the ‘concerns’ (namely: ‘Safety and Wellbeing’, ‘Risk to Others’, ‘Substance Misuse’, ‘Speech, Language and Communication’ and ‘Mental Health’) more than 70% of assessed children had a ‘concern’ present.

The key takeaway from the statistics is that the number of ‘concerns’ present as a proportion of children assessed increased with the severity of the type of sentence. Of the children assessed who received custodial sentences, 40% showed between 15‐19 concerns, compared with 13% of children assessed who received first‐tier sentences.

The data also reveals a disparity in the type of ‘concerns’ present depending on the age of the sentenced child. Children aged 10‐14 who were assessed showed a greater proportion of ‘Speech, Language and Communication’, ‘Mental Health’, and ‘Learning, Education, Training and Employment’ concerns than 15‐17 year olds, whereas 15‐17 year olds who were assessed showed a greater proportion of ‘Substance Misuse’ concerns.

Care History

The factors relating to care status look at the child’s current and previous care history (e.g. whether they are subject to a care order or child protection plan, whether they have siblings in care or are remanded to local authority accommodation or youth detention accommodation).

Perhaps unsurprisingly, over half (57%) of children assessed showed them to be a current or previous Child in Need. A Child in Need is as a child who is unlikely to achieve or maintain a reasonable level of health or development without the provision of services. These statistics further cement the already established link between a child’s care status and involvement with the Youth Justice System.

Risk of Serious Harm / Safety and Wellbeing

The practitioner assessed ratings for ‘Risk of Serious Harm’ look at the imminence and likelihood of death or serious personal injury (whether physical or psychological). The ratings for ‘Safety and Wellbeing’ look at the risk that a child’s safety and well-being is now, or in the future, potentially compromised through his or her own behaviour, personal circumstances or because of the acts or omissions of others.

Almost half (48%) of children assessed had a medium ‘Risk of Serious Harm’, while 32% were rated as high or very high. For ‘Safety and Wellbeing’ 40% of children assessed were rated medium risk, while 46% were high or very high.

Again, as the sentence type severity increased so did the proportion of children that had a high or very high ‘Risk of Serious Harm’ rating. The same is true for Safety and Wellbeing ratings. Over three quarters (77%) of children assessed who received a custodial sentence had a high or very high ‘Risk of Serious Harm’ rating, compared with 39% of those who received community sentences and 14% of those who received first‐tier sentences. Three quarters (75%) of children assessed who received a custodial sentence had a high or very high ‘Safety and Wellbeing’ rating, compared with 59% of those who received community sentences and 29% for those who received first‐tier sentences.

Desistance from offending

The AssetPlus desistance factors are designed to focus intervention planning on addressing the child’s needs and behaviours. Factors against desistance look at issues that may be a barrier to stop a child offending, while factors for desistance look at issues that may play a positive role in stopping a child offending. These factors are unique to each child.

For the sentenced children assessed, the categories that were most directly associated with offending were:

  • ‘Features of Lifestyle’ – meaning factors such as addiction, gambling and misuse of technology;
  • ‘Thinking Behaviour’ – meaning factors around the child’s thinking promoting desistance or contributing to the offending; and
  • ‘Substance Misuse’ – meaning factors concerning the child’s use of alcohol, tobacco or drugs.

For children assessed, the categories that were most directly associated with desistance from offending were:

  • ‘Learning and ETE’ – meaning factors around learning, education, training and employment of the child;
  • ‘Family and Wider Networks’ – meaning factors around whether the child’s family or peers are having a positive or negative influence on them; and
  • ‘Engagement Participation’ – meaning factors around whether the child is engaging with the YOT.

The publication of this data for the first time is to be welcomed as a positive step towards analysing the needs of children with the aim of reducing re-offending, or even preventing offending in the first place.

Commentary

Overall, the statistics suggest that the custodial population of children and young people will likely have complex needs that are interrelated and interdependent. The more severe the sentence imposed, the more ‘concerns’ the sentenced child is likely to have. In addition, the ‘Risk of Serious Harm’ to the child and issues around the ‘Safety and Wellbeing’ of the sentenced child are also likely to significantly increase. Although these statistics are concerning, it is hoped that the increase of publicly available information of this type will inform policy development and improve responses to the complex needs of sentenced children.

Going forward, the YJB hopes to incorporate these statistics as part of or alongside its Youth Justice Statistics as a regular official statistics publication. The YJB may also consider publishing further experimental statistics from AssetPlus, depending on user feedback. As such, feedback on the utility of the experimental statistics is crucial at this juncture. The YJB has called for feedback from practitioners and users of the statistics, with a particular focus on:

  • whether the figures are useful;
  • the future development of statistics from AssetPlus data; and
  • what other data would be of value to practitioners and users.

Further details regarding the feedback process can be found on the final page of the report. We encourage all stakeholders in the Youth Justice System to provide any feedback they might have in order to improve the quality of information emanating from the YJB in the hope that this will, in turn, improve the support the Youth Justice System can provide to sentenced children and young people going forward.