Reintegration and transitions for young offenders: guidance

Best practice information for local authorities, community planning partnership and service providers.

6. Core principles of effective reintegration and transitions

6.1 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child ( UNCRC)

After several significant developments, in 1989, world leaders recognised that children needed a special human rights convention just for them due to young people under 18 often needing special care and protection that adults do not. The leaders also wanted to make sure that the world recognised that children have human rights too. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 45 is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate the full range of human rights - civil, cultural, economic, political and social and the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world (all but two countries are state parties).

Ratified by the UK Government in December 1991, the Convention emphasises the importance of 'promoting the child's reintegration and the child's assuming a constructive role in society' 46 . The obligation to comply with the UNCRC applies to devolved and local government 47 .

The Convention sets out these rights in 54 articles and two Optional Protocols. It spells out the basic human rights that children everywhere have: the right to survival; to develop to the fullest; to protection from harmful influences, abuse and exploitation; and to participate fully in family, cultural and social life. The four core principles of the Convention are non-discrimination; devotion to the best interests of the child; the right to life, survival and development; and respect for the views of the child. Every right spelled out in the Convention is inherent to the human dignity and harmonious development of every child. The Convention protects children's rights by setting standards in health care; education; and legal, civil and social services. They are human rights standards, and as such they mark the minimum acceptable standard to apply in respect of all children and young people under the age of 18, rather than aspirational goals or a 'gold standard'.

Article 40 requires that 'whenever appropriate and desirable, measures for dealing with such children without resorting to judicial proceedings, providing that human rights and legal safeguards are fully respected. A variety of disposals such as care, guidance and supervision orders; counselling, probation, foster care, education and vocational training programmes and other alternatives to institutional care shall be available to ensure that children are dealt with in a manner appropriate to their well-being and proportionate both to their circumstances and the offence.'

Article 37(c) of the UNCRC states that children should not be deprived of their liberty in all but the most exceptional circumstances and for the shortest period, and should not be detained in custody alongside adult offenders. Article 40(3) of the Convention provides that any under 18 alleged to have committed an offence should be tried through a separate youth justice system and not the adult system.

6.2 Risk and need assessment

GIRFEC highlights the importance of the assessment process 48 , which is crucial in identifying the needs and risks of young people involved in offending. This allows for individualised plans to effectively address risk and need, by highlighting interventions to promote changes in behaviour.

Assessments need to be holistic and analytical, with actions highlighted in the plan to meet risk and need and improve outcomes for young people. Offending behaviour and criminogenic factors need to be measured and included in the plan as areas to be addressed. In Scotland, the Risk Management Authority's ( RMA) Risk Assessment Tools Evaluation Directory ( RATED) document 49 highlights the different risk assessments tools available. GIRFEC details three tools 50 to make sense of the information collected. Professional judgement should also be used when undertaking assessment and planning to inform risk management 51 .

Once a decision has been made about risk management arrangements, it is for the lead professional to coordinate, monitor and review these arrangements and, through liaison with the other professionals working with the child or young person, identify any changes in behaviour which would necessitate a review of the risk management arrangements. The lead professional's primary task is to make sure that all the support provided is working well, fits with involvement of other practitioners and agencies and is achieving the goals of the young person's 'single plan'.

Positive multi agency working is fundamental to the risk management and planning process and relies as much on formal agreements as on good working relationships between practitioners. However, it is important to ensure a consistent approach across agencies so that everyone involved in the management of young people has a clear understanding of their role and responsibilities. Accountability is essential and governance within the appropriate priority in Community Plans should enable this. Where possible young people and children in the youth justice system should form part of the Integrated Children's Services Plan where most of the priorities around children and young people are located. This would also require some communication and coordination of policy and strategy from both the child and adult protection committees which lends itself to the CPP structure and governance.

Risk management or Multi Agency Public Protection Arrangements ( MAPPA) 52 meetings should be included in child planning meetings at intervals as set out in the Children (Scotland) Act 1995 regulations and guidance 53 , and MAPPA guidance, or on a more frequent basis as risk dictates.

Risk assessment activity should flow from a holistic needs based assessment and should not be seen as separate activities. 54 Overly risk averse or purely actuarial approaches have been shown to be counter productive because of the way they can oversimplify the assessment process, create complacency in workers (who may come to see risk assessment as a tick box exercise), and/or miss significant information because of a failure to think more broadly about the wider environmental factors. 55

6.3 Single Plan

All young people should have a multi-agency single plan that is moved with them regardless of where they are placed or live. The named person or lead professional 56 has responsibility for maintaining this plan, to meet the risks and needs of the young people. In secure care or prison setting, the key worker or personal officer should act as the named person while a young person is in secure care or custody, with the local authority where the child resides maintaining the role as lead professional to ensure effective transitions for these young people. This should result in the local authority being involved in the planning for the young person within any establishment to ensure their successful reintegration back to the community.

No young person should be without a plan. For those who are sentenced through the court, this should be included within their court report and the lead professional should liaise with SPS to ensure information is shared and planning for release started.

The lead professional will be responsible for ensuring an agreed multi-agency single plan is produced. The plan will be based on an assessment of needs and will incorporate any current single agency plans. The plan will identify when a review is needed and the lead professional will arrange for the production of materials for the review if this is to take place at a meeting. Materials will be circulated to everyone involved, especially the young person and where appropriate, their family.

It is not the responsibility of the lead professional to undertake all work with young people and their families; or replace other practitioners who have specific roles or who are carrying out direct work or specialist assessments. The lead professional's primary task is to make sure that all the support provided is working well, fits with involvement of other practitioners and agencies and is achieving the outcomes specified in the single plan. When the single plan has been agreed, the lead professional will:

  • usually be the point of contact with the child and family for the purpose of discussing the plan and how it is working, as well as any changes in circumstances that may affect the plan;
  • be a main point of contact for all practitioners who are delivering help to the young person to feedback progress on the plan or raise any issues;
  • make sure that the help provided is consistent with the single plan, that services are not duplicated;
  • work with the young person and family and the practitioner network to make sure that the views and wishes of the young person and their family are heard and properly taken into account and, when necessary, link the young person and family with specialist advocacy;
  • support the young person and family to make use of help from practitioners and agencies;
  • monitor how well the plan is working and whether it is improving the young person's situation;
  • co-ordinate the provision of other help or specialist assessments which may be needed, with advice from other practitioners where necessary, and make arrangements for these to take place;
  • arrange for the agencies to review together their involvement and amend the single plan when necessary;
  • make sure the young person is supported through key transition points and ensure a careful and planned transfer of responsibility for these roles when another practitioner becomes the lead professional, for example if the child's needs change or the family moves away, or the named person resumes responsibility for the young person when a multi-agency single plan is no longer needed.

Upon entering secure care or custody, the single plan should be the only plan for young people, covering all their needs, with specific information in relation to who and how they will be met. Other plans, assessments or reports relating to the young person will form part of the overarching single plan. Critically though, the process and development of other plans and assessments need to fully integrate with the planning and review for the young person. Having a single plan and lead professional will promote good case management to ensure continuity during transitions and improve opportunities to re-engage young people into services and activities within their own community.

6.4 Partnership working

Partnership working is crucial for the successful reintegration of young people who are released from secure care or custody.

GIRFEC emphasises the importance of culture change for partnership-working, but how this is achieved in practice presents a challenge that needs to be addressed in order to provide services for young people leaving secure care and custody. Where agencies fail to work effectively in partnership, young people do not receive the services that they need, when they need them, which can result in them continuing with their offending behaviour and returning to custody. 57

The partnership document Preventing Offending by Young People: A Framework for Action 58 establishes how organisations should be working together to prevent and reduce offending by children and young people. The Scottish Government has also prioritised work that supports partners to take forward the development of a ' whole system approach' to dealing with under 18s who offend.

A whole system approach involves putting in place a streamlined and consistent planning, assessment and decision making process for young people involved in offending to ensure they receive the right help at the right time. This approach works across all systems and agencies. It brings together Government key policy frameworks into one holistic approach to deal with young people who offend.

The ethos of the whole system approach suggests that many young people could and should be diverted from statutory measures, prosecution and custody through early intervention and robust community alternatives. The focus of this work encourages agencies to proactively support young people to develop the skills which will allow them to make positive contributions to their communities.

It is anticipated that a whole system approach should include interventions and responses such as:

  • the introduction of multi-agency early and effective intervention to ensure young people get a timely, appropriate and proportionate response to early/minor offending and are directed towards positive activities.
  • the introduction of a focussed, intelligence-led approach to serious and persistent offending which would enable partners to identify, target, support and challenge the most serious and persistent young people involved in offending in their area;
  • the introduction of multi-agency screening to identify opportunities for diversion from prosecution and diversion from custody ensuring that young people get an immediate and effective response that meets risk and need and that channels them towards options that will develop their capacity and skills;
  • the improvements in the use of risk assessment and risk management planning to support decision making, ensuring the most expensive resources are targeted at the highest risk young people and that these are deployed effectively; and
  • greater use of community disposals.

6.5 Services

In Scotland evidence suggests that reconviction rates for those on some types of non-custodial sentences are lower than for those serving a sentence in prison. 59 We also know that programmes to address offending are more effective when undertaken in the community than in prison. 60 However, if the underlying causes of offending are not addressed in prison or secure care, offending behaviour is likely to continue upon release. 61 This in turn will result in young people returning to courts, social work services and prison, which is financially expensive as well as adding further pressure on communities and resources.

In 1999 The Home Office highlighted the key elements that were effective in preventing reoffending by young people in custody:

  • effective and co-ordinated sentence planning throughout the sentence;
  • development of relevant programmes drawn from evidence-based success criteria and the 'What-Works' agenda;
  • targeting programmes at those who require them;
  • working in partnership to improve literacy, job skills, employment opportunities, family support, access to housing; and
  • effective transitions of young people who offend between agencies and to the community.

Within the above work, the young person's learning style, learning needs, gender and religious or ethnic persuasion should be taken into account.

Rigorous monitoring and evaluation of methods is integral to track service activity, outputs and outcomes and the continuous improvement of a service. Evaluation findings can also be fed back into developing staff skills and competencies through designated training programmes. Service evaluations can be conducted in house or by commissioned external researcher teams.

6.6 Exits

It is crucial that care planning involves an exit strategy from secure accommodation or custody from the outset. Within secure care, this will ensure that children do not end up staying for longer than they need to because forward planning will ensure continuity of care.

Research is clear that exit strategies need to involve young people and their families and/or future carers and that the young person needs to have the necessary time to prepare physically and psychologically for their move 62 . Not knowing what the forward plans are can also cause a young person's mental health to deteriorate 63 .

Following the 'What Works' research, interventions should address the risk presented. As the risk decreases so should the level of intervention. Many young people involved in offending behaviour, will have experienced poor relationships with adults and so reducing contact with services or with positive role models in secure care or custody needs to be undertaken in a planned way. Exit strategies need to be included within the young person's single plan from the outset to ensure a positive ending of involvement in services, at a time that is appropriate. Not only will benefit the young person, but also services and service providers by interventions being available to other young people when they need it.

The amount and avalibility of support networks that each young person has is integral to their successful exit from secure care or custody. It essential that family and support networks are identified within the commuity and built upon for sustainability, and that assessments and planning are inclusive of these. This should then be incorporated into the young person's single plan.

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