Rebecca Joy Novell

The creation of a charity, from the very beginning.

Youth Justice Will Help You Lose 4 Stone In A Week

I have been taking some herbal pills, called Acai berries, for four months. The Daily Mail dubbed these pills “‘botox in a bottle’ or ‘youthberry’ because of its amazing ability for weight loss”. I religiously take three pills a day and since doing so I have lost three stone. I feel so much better for it and am finally within my BMI. The anti-oxidants have cleansed my body and boosted my metabolism. Acai berries really do contribute to rapid weight loss.

Except, of course, they don’t.

If I had been thinking rationally, I would have realized at the point of reading the Daily Mail review, that if they’re championing Acai, then the pills definitely don’t work. However, I seem to have convinced myself (and everyone in the office) that these pills DO work. My weight loss is nothing to do with the fact that my new job has created a lifestyle change where I can no longer eat all day, every day. Nor is it anything to do with the fact that my car has broken and I have had to start walking everywhere. Nope. It’s just the pills.

People know, deep-down, that diet pills don’t work. It’s a truth that no-one wants to openly acknowledge. Like when you organize a BBQ in England and convince yourself that it won’t rain that weekend. It’s a lie we tell ourselves in order to fight off the miserable reality that is British weather and Asda microwave meals. I’ve convinced myself that diet pills work to fight off the reality that if I want to lose weight I have to go to the gym and be the fat, red, sweaty girl who sits between the woman who has the body of a super-model and apparently has an inability to sweat; and the gorgeous man who makes you go ten times redder than you already are. That’s reality. And I don’t like it 

The Youth Justice System is similar to diet pills. More specifically, the programmes that are put in place to deal with the most prolific and high risk offenders in our community, are like diet pills 

One of the main aims of the Youth Justice Board is ‘to prevent offending and reoffending by children and young people under the age of 18’. Nationally, an Intensive Supervision and Surveillance (ISS) Programme is offered to Courts to say that offenders can be dealt with in the community rather than sent to prison. The ISS programme promises to: ‘address the underlying causes of the offending’; ‘manage the risks posed by the young person to the community’; ‘stabilise what is often a very chaotic lifestyle’; and ‘help the young person lead an independent life free of offending’ (Youth Justice Board website).

Except of course, it doesn’t.

Re-offending rates consistently remain around the 70% mark  (http://www.justice.gov.uk/downloads/statistics/youth-justice/yjb-statistics-10-11.pdf/). The Youth Justice System is not successfully meeting the Youth Justice Board’s main aim. It’s almost as if evidence-based practice doesn’t exist in the world of Youth Justice. But like diet pills, no one wants to openly admit it, because it would result in a lot of work.

There are two things that need to be noted: firstly, that those young people on ISS programmes are some of the most heavily entrenched offenders and come from extremely chaotic and damaging backgrounds; therefore there is no quick-fix. Secondly, the Youth Justice Board’s aim is unrealistic. They will never prevent all offending. Crime is a social construct and will always exist. However, it is apparent through my work within the Youth Justice System that we aren’t giving the most serious offenders the right support. We may never get rid of all crime, but we can surely reduce the reoffending rate from 70%?!

High caseloads, poor resources and lack of training mean that in reality a young person on the ISS programme turns up to the Youth Justice office three times a week to be asked if they’re okay and then sent away. The rest of the time the Youth Justice Officer in charge will be ringing around schools and colleges ensuring the young person is attending education; completing risk assessments on paper; attending approximately five million* social care meetings a month (*accurate statistics); completing risk assessments on paper; liaising with the police; completing risk assessments on paper and typing up every conversation they’ve had with everyone. Oh, and typing up risk assessments on paper. Whilst all these things are important, it leaves very little time to spend any time with the young person, never mind try and address offending behaviour in a meaningful manner.

Maybe things would be different if resources in the community hadn’t been almost completely obliterated. Previously, if a young person was involved in gun crime, there was a targeted gun crime programme that Youth Justice workers could send that young person to on a weekly basis. Now, however, that service does not exist, so Youth Justice workers are supposed to deliver that service; workers who have no knowledge or experience in educating young people on gun crime. If programmes existed in the community to provide meaningful intervention, where young people actually interacted positively with professionals over a number of hours a week (rather than a ten minute check-up), then maybe we would see some positive results. But group work programmes and relationship-based practice are massively undervalued in Social Work at present and these programmes simply don’t exist.

For those quick-thinkers out there who are shouting: ‘Well, why don’t you just send them to prison then rather than try and manage them in the community?’; prison is equally ineffective and arguably causes more problems in the long-run. The term ‘University of Crime’ is a depressingly fitting description of prison. 

The answer is having more time to implement effective programmes. Much like losing-weight; if you want to really implement change, you have to put some physical effort in. We need to spend time and energy with these young people to run challenging programmes that address issues such as conflict resolution and victim awareness. Research shows again and again that the most effective way to engage with young people and change attitudes is through face-to-face work and through the relationship they build with professionals. This is what the evidence shows but instead the focus remains on paperwork, bureaucracy and RISK MANAGEMENT *tears hair out*.

Yet again, risk, rather than the young person, has become the central consideration. Rather than seeing a young person once a week and doing really effective work, a young person has to attend the office almost every day so that if things go wrong they are easily breached and sent back to prison. This shows how much faith the Youth Justice System places in its practitioners to prevent reoffending. It’s a Catch-22 situation: workers cannot prevent reoffending within the current system and therefore easy breach is necessary to keep the public safe.

Many of the practitioners I have worked with in Youth Justice are the most passionate, hard-working people I know and are firmly committed to social justice. The changes in the system would only have to be small to create drastic changes. Practitioners are begging for the change. The biggest hurdle, is a hurdle common to Social Work in general: we need to acknowledge risk but not shy away from it; acknowledge that mistakes do happen and that we don’t always need to blame someone for it; and acknowledge that paperwork does not reduce risk.

There are no quick fixes in life. Acai pills included. So to all the ladies in the office who I have convinced to spend a small-fortune on these pills, I apologize!

Novs x

One comment on “Youth Justice Will Help You Lose 4 Stone In A Week

  1. I really think this post will strike a chord with anyone who has worked in youth justice. Serious resonance going on with me, particularly constant assessments and writing stuff up- you have to write up what you’re going to do, what you might have to do, then afterwards what you did and whether it matched up to your original plan and if not, why not. Lots of writing, much less meaningful work with young people because you have so little time. Frustrating as heck!

    One thing I would say is that evidence-based practice does exist in the form of the Professional Certificate in Effective Practice in Youth Justice (Open University). Refreshing to get the opportunity to read up on best practice but often extremely frustrating as tick-boxing, writing-up etc works against been able to implement what you have learned and know is best practice. To maintain job satisfaction by actually feeling like I was helping young people I ended up spending a lot of my spare time reading up on research and developing and researching decent programmes of work. It reaped dividends in my work with yp, re-offending went down and life outcomes (at least while i knew them) went up. It has also enabled me to share what I have learned on my website http://www.teenagewhisperer.co.uk For me anyway, this was the only way to deal with my frustration. Suitably recompensed for my efforts, well no, but job satisfaction increased. At the end of the day I don’t do it for money or recognition, I do it because I passionately care about kids who are written-off before their lives really got started and believe that everyone can ‘turn it around’ given the right care, someone who listens and the discovery of the hope that life can be different.

    So what I think I am trying to say in this ridiculously long comment is don’t let the system get you down and hold on to why you do what you do!

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