There is a conflict between current legislation and government policy on youth crime and the welfare approach promoted by section 44 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. Discuss this view, with reference to the role of Social Workers on the Youth Justice System today.

In this assignment I will firstly give an overview of the Youth Justice System, the changes that have taken effect and the changing legislation which have led to changes in practice. I will discuss the rights of the child, while considering Welfare versus punishments. I will also explain the role of the Youth Offending Team. Finally I will discuss changes, and what impact these have or had not had on the current Youth Justice System.

The Youth Justice System is the Laws and services which deal with children aged between ten and eighteen years old who have been accused or convicted of crime and who are offenders. The youth justice system has six key objectives; Swift Administration of justice, confronting young people with the consequences that their offending has had on the victims, providing interventions, ensuring punishment is fair and measured against the seriousness of the offence, encouraging offenders to make reparation to victims, and reinforcing the responsibilities of parents (www.yjb.gov.uk).

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The youth Justice System in England is made up of the Youth Justice Board, Youth Offending Teams, Police and Crown Prosecution Service, and the Courts. The Youth Justice Board (YJB) is was created out of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and overseas the Youth Justice System for England and Wales and works to prevent offending re-offending of children and makes sure that custody is safe, it also addresses reasons for their offending behaviour, it reports to the Home Secretary.

The Government paper Every Child Matters: Change for Children in the Criminal Justice System reshaped thinking around Youth Offending and came from a more welfare based approach. It has five main outcomes for children: –

* Be healthy

* Stay Safe

* Enjoy and Achieve

* Make a Positive Contribution

* Achieve Economic Wellbeing.

(ECM – 1)

The paper stated that the statutory aim of the Youth justice system was to prevent offending, rather than punishment and it put a high emphasis on safeguarding children. The paper took on board some of the environmental factors which contribute to the reasons why children turn to crime.

Restorative Justice has been a strong influence in the changes to legislation and the work of the youth justice system. Restorative justice came about by the Government white paper “No More Excuses” and follows a principle of the three R’s; Responsibility, Restoration and Reintegration. One of the vital areas is to get offenders to engage with services and to come to terms with what they have done and

face the victims of their crimes to try ad get offenders to appreciate the impact of their crimes (Workbook 3, pg.47). However the Restorative Justice approach is much more about punishment than welfare, and does not touch on the reasons why a young person may have committed a crime.

Since 2007 the Department for Children Schools and Families (DCHF) has been interpreted as heralding a more child centred approach to young offending (K269 – Update Supplement pg.36). Every Child Matters and Aiming High for young people has made changes to the way young offenders are being dealt with taking on board a more welfare based approach while trying to work on tackling the reasons for offending rather than just punishing the offence. Always as a direct conflict for policy makers is the publics wish for Governments to be seen to be tacking youth crime and anti-social behaviour harshly with much of public feeling that the law is too lenient. There has always been conflict between the welfare Model and the justice model, which holds a more “get tough” approach.

More recently governments have tried to change their approach to Youth Offending in trying to target youth crime in a more proactive way, rather than punishing all crimes equally. Schedule 2 of the Children Act 1989 placed a duty on local authorities to take reasonable steps to reduce the need to bring criminal proceedings against children and to instead concentrate on more preventative work (Workbook 3, pg. 40). In the recent Youth Crime Action Plan 2008, it states that prevention will be tackled by addressing he root causes of crime. A key change has been replacing cautions with a system of reprimands and warnings. New punishments for young offenders like Individual Support Orders (ISO) and the Youth Justice Boards Youth inclusion Programme seeks to reduce offending by funding schemes in more disadvantaged neighbourhoods where children are at most risk of offending.

Overall the new plans and approaches hoped to see an end to continued offending and for custodial sentences given to young offenders for less serious crimes. The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 introduces the Youth Rehabilitation Order (YRO) which could be given and carry a degree of monitoring, and also place an offender with foster carers, a lesser sentence than being placed in custody (K269 Update Supplement, pg.44). A DTO (Detention and Training Order could be given to a young offender but only when they have committed the most serious of crimes or if the child is a persistent offender (Workbook 3, pg.71).

Youth Offending Teams (YOT’s) were set up by the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 and have been seen as a positive move in working with young offenders, their role is to co-ordinate the provision of youth justice services in their local authority areas (www.yjb.gov.uk). YOT’s are made up of Police, Probation Officers, Social Workers, Health and Education Services and other specialist workers all working together in partnership delivering Youth Justice Services.

The role of a YOT team is to complete assessments when a young person has offended using the assessment frame work called ASSET (Workbook 3, pg.64). The assessment is used to identify suitable programmes to address the needs of young people, with the intension of preventing further offending. YOT’s also complete pre-sentencing reports for the courts which assist the court in determining the most appropriate method of dealing with a young person who has committed a crime. YOT’s also carry out a lot of

preventative work with young people and communities who are most at risk of offending by providing advise support and interventions, like clubs and drop in centre’s (www.yjb.gov.uk). YOT teams also have a range of responsibilities as soon a child in arrested, which include support to the young person and their family.

Since 2003 the Youth Justice Board (YJB) has promoted the use of Youth Inclusion and Support Panels (YISP), which aim to prevent anti-social behaviour and offending by 8 to 13-year-olds who are considered to be at high risk of offending. They have been designed to help reduce the likelihood of young people committing offences. Police, Schools, Heath and Social Services make up the panel representatives. The main emphasis of the panel’s work is to ensure that children and their families can access services to assist in reduction of offending at the earliest possibility.

Following a successful pilot scheme that began in April 2003, the YJB and the Children’s Fund now fund 122 YISP’s. Of these, 13 pilot areas have received additional support to develop procedures and innovative practice, which will then provide a framework of best practice for all other YISP’s (www.yjb.gov.uk). Involvement in the YISP is voluntary ad children and their families are asked to consent to it and an assessment and co operation wit an Individual Support Order. YISPs also work towards the same five core outcomes set out in Every Child Matters (K269 Update Supplement, pg.40).

New rules now also apply to the Police and the procedures the Police have to follow in relation to Young Offenders are very strict. In the past the police would seek advice from other agencies, like Social Services and multi agency cautioning panels. The Police now are able to make the decisions themselves but need to satisfy criteria in order to only give a reprimand or final warning which include; sufficient evidence to enable the police to be able to get a conviction, the young person must admit the offence, the young person has not been previously convicted of an offence and it is not in the public’s interest for the young person to be prosecuted (Workbook 3, pg.55).

The Police are not able to give a reprimand if the young person has already received a reprimand or final warning, on these cases the Police have a duty to prosecute. This is in line with the Crime and Disorder Act 1989 (CDA) but is in stark contrast against a more welfare approach, as the Police’s aim primarily is to prosecute crime and not consider the reasons behind such crimes, and the Police generally do not take into account other environmental factors that may have contributed to the young persons decision to commit a criminal offence. Although the final say on trial and prosecution lays with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), who have to follow strict considerations in deciding whether to prosecute against a child or young person, the waiting game and the lack of decisions can lean to further offending behaviour as the matters often are not dealt with swiftly (www.guradian.co.uk).

Although Policy Makers have tried to bridge the gap between a welfare approach and a justice model it is clear there are still quite often divides. In the case of Youth Justice there is a need to be both caring but to also punish law breaking activity and not be seen as being too lenient. In 2008 Francis Done the Chair of the Youth Justice Board stated that a clear child protection approach was needed in the Youth Justice System and that younger siblings and close friends and other gang members are also at risk of offending behaviour and a “at risk” approach needs to be used to tackle

offending behaviour (www.guardian.co.uk). The work carried out by the Youth Justice Board is clearly trying to bridge the divide further by using initiatives and encouraging professionals to work together. The Youth Rehabilitation Order (YRO) was introduced in 2008 and within the order was a YRO with fostering. This is seen to be a soft approach by many victims of crimes; however research has shown that it is very successful in working with offenders to change behaviours (www.bbc.co.uk). A recent article in the guardian interviewed a young offender who spent 9 months with a foster carer rather than in a Young offenders Institute saw he felt real remorse for his crimes and was encouraged to be part of a successful community, where as inside a Young Offenders Institution (YOI) he would have spent his sentence with other offenders, and research shows this is not successful and most go on to re-offend in the future (www.guardian.co.uk).

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) states that any young person in conflict with the law has the right to treatment which promotes dignity, worth and takes into account age and reintegration back into society. The convention also sets out clear guidelines on best interests of the child and his or her protection. In Europe, England sets the age when a child must accept criminal responsibility at 10 years old. Many European countries see this age as far too low, setting their own age limits at 14, 16 and even eighteen. Many countries take on an entirely welfare driven approach feeling that if children do something wrong they should be dealt with through the care system not the criminal justice system. Children know if they have done something wrong, but they don’t know the difference between various levels of wrongdoing (www.guradian.co.uk).

In England although we are moving towards a more welfare based system is felt by many that we have a long way to go. Anger around the way children have been treated by our criminal justice system go back years, even to the trial of James Bugler’s killers Thomson and Venables. Although now most cases of offences committed by children are dealt with in the Youth Courts, still cases of extreme violence and murder can still be dealt with in the Crown Courts, an adult court. Despite the European court of Human rights deeming that the trial of Venables and Thompson was unfair, that at ten years old they would not have understood what was going on, they could not see properly, were unable to speak to their legal representatives and were tired in public, facing abuse and violence when arriving and leaving court.

In April this year two brothers aged 10 and 11 were arrested for the attempted murder of two other boys, already the press have described these boys as “savages,” “torture bruvs,” (www.guardian.co.uk) which begs the question in relation to serious crimes committed by children, has anything really changed. In these cases is the proper way to deal with a ten year old child really best served with barristers and a jury or Social Workers, Probation Officers and child therapists. In the case of Venables and Thompson both children came from deprived backgrounds, lived in areas where crime and violence was commonplace, yet at ten years old they were held accountable for murder (www.guardian.co.uk). The two boys arrested in April have lived in Foster Care for a large proportion of their lives and have suffered neglect and abuse themselves, can anyone really know if they know right from wrong at ten years old.

What policy makers are up against is the need for young offenders to be treated like children, helped, looked after and protected against the overwhelming public opinion

which seems to be becoming more punitive against children, on the whole the population seems to be quick to condemn children and less willing to accept that these children’s failings may be down to other factors. If the public, who read and signed the petition in the Sun Newspaper in 1993 had their way Venables and Thompson would still be “rotting in jail”(www.guardian.co.uk). Yet since the trial of Venables and Thompson the Foreman of the Jury has stated that he feels they should have stated that the verdict of the Venables and Thompson should have stated they are in urgent needs for Social and psychiatric help, not guilty or not guilty (www.guardian.co.uk).

Despite policies designed to tackle youth crime in Britain, gang violence in on the increase and so too is violent crime committed by young people. Although the government would state it has clearly tried to cut down the number of young offenders entering custody, the Prison Reform Trust states that between 1991 and 2006 the number of children sentenced to custody has doubled in England and Wales (www.prisonreformtrust.org.uk), which begs the question is the new legislation really working. It is clear that initiatives and the work of the YOT’s go a long way in attempting to cut crime and offences committed by young people, but they can only protect as far as the law and legislation allows.

In the England you have to be 16 years old to have sex and get married, you have to be 17 to drive a car and 18 years old to buy alcohol, why, because you are seen as not being mature enough below those ages to make the informed decisions, yet at 10 years old you are able to be tried for crimes and even murder. In order to bridge the gap and to reduce the clear conflict between a welfare approach and a justice model, it may be more than legislation that needs to change, maybe attitudes must change this may enable children to be treated fairly and for the true reason behind criminal behaviour in children to be tackled properly, and the welfare of the child must be considered more important than his or her punishment.

REFRENCES:

Open University (2006) K269 Social Care, Social Work and the Law, Workbook 3 The Criminal Justice and Youth Justice Systems, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Open University (2009) K269 Update Supplement, Workbook 3 The Criminal Justice and Youth Justice Systems, Milton Keynes, The Open University.

Prison Reform Trust, www.prisonreformtrust.co.uk [accessed 10/07/2009]

The Guardian Sweeping changes 29/04/2009 www.guardian.co.uk [accessed 20/07/09]

The Guardian Planned changes to youth Justice 17/06/2008 www.guardian.co.uk [accessed 20/07/09]

The Guardian Let the Circus Begin 11/04/09 www.guardian.co.uk [accessed 21/07/09]

Youth Justice Board About the Youth Justice System www.yjb.co.uk [accessed 20/07/09]

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