Make Salad Not Soup – Musings from the YOT Managers AGM

Discussion and informed debate on the potential future developments and past successes within the youth justice sector dominated the Association of YOT Managers (AYM) AGM event I attended last week. Not having a youth justice background I am a relative newcomer to the work of the AYM and YOT teams in general. I was of course aware of the considerable impact and success YOTs have had on youth offending figures (75% decrease in young people convicted or cautioned since 2006/07), so I was not surprised to find myself among passionate, knowledgeable and experienced professionals. The Youth Justice Review was a prevalent subject with speculation of what might feature and the potential impact of Charlie Taylor’s recommendations. There is growing concern that any watering down of the 1998 act will have a detrimental impact on the quality of services for young people who offend or are at risk of offending.

Although it is widely accepted that YOTs have hugely contributed to an impressive national decrease in offending, re-offending remains stubbornly high (33% up from 2009/10). The YJB argue that the successful interventions that have led to a decrease in offending have had an adverse effect on re-offending figures, stating ‘there are proportionately more young offenders with persistent, entrenched offending behaviour in the youth justice system’. In CYP Now’s analysis on what works best in cutting youth offending, there was a strong indication that current practice is ineffective and that personalised interventions supported through a relationship with a trusted adult, focusing on the young person’s strengths and interests would support more effective outcomes.

Interestingly, we have had similar discussions with Ambition members about the role of youth services supporting a local youth offer for all young people across the UK. The role of a trusted adult in developing and maintaining a consistent relationship, especially with young people who require targeted support/services is vital to a successful outcome. It is apparent where multi-agency teams work collaboratively, recognising the need for distinct services that takes into account adolescent development, this supports better outcomes. However, I share the fear of my colleagues who attended the AYM event that it requires the multi-agency teams to be populated by professionals with distinct skills, training, knowledge and experience and not to populate teams with individuals with general skills. I liked Professor Ray Jones’ salad bowl analogy, where the unique characteristics of each professional area are still identifiable within the multi-agency team, much like the ingredients in a salad are still identifiable, yet contribute to the overall make-up of the salad bowl. By all means let’s combine resource and expertise but let’s not turn our salad into a mushy soup.