Making sure our youngsters cause no offence

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Young criminals are few in number – but great efforts are made to put them back on the straight and narrow.

Juveniles who end up in the criminal justice system are at risk of reoffending and of being a risk to society if nothing is done to help them

Last year inspectors who assessed Portsmouth’s Youth Offending Team said its work tackling reoffending was ‘worryingly poor’ and not enough was being done to manage risk of harm to others.

But now a new report has hailed improvements calling some of the work carried out by the team ‘impressive’.

The team, run by Portsmouth City Council since 2012, helps to stop children reoffending and supervises community sentences handed out by the courts.

And ensuring youngsters do not reoffend is a tough task – 93 out of 206 youth offenders in Portsmouth did so between October 2012 and September 2013.

And those 93 were responsible for 381 crimes classed as reoffending.

The national average is 36.6 per cent in England and Wales but is 45.1 per cent in Portsmouth – although this is an improvement on previous years.

Progress has been made in every aspect inspected. They were: reducing reoffending (rated satisfactory), protecting the public (satisfactory), protecting children and young people (good), ensuring that the sentence is served (good), governance and partnerships (satisfactory) and interventions (satisfactory).

Superintendent Will Schofield, Portsmouth district commander is the YOT board chair.

He said: ‘The board is delighted with the findings of HMI Probation.

‘The progress is an endorsement of the plans made to tackle issues highlighted in the previous inspection and the exceptional hard work and dedication displayed by staff within the YOT.

‘There are challenges from the inspectors, which we acknowledge and will address. However, they have clearly been impressed by the foundations which have been laid in the last 18 months. We will strive to build on these and continue to provide a first-class service to the people of Portsmouth by intervening robustly with young people who offend and providing their victims with assurance that this intervention is effective.’

Importantly, part of the work the YOT does is to protect the children it helps.

The report highlighted how the team was aware of a person who was a risk to children and young people.

Case managers used snippets of information to draw up a chart to map, identify and keep an eye on links between two adults and a number of children.

The report said: ‘This gave them a far greater understanding of who was at risk and how children and young people could be drawn into the web.

‘This work was impressive as it was, but not satisfied with that, the case managers were now plotting with a worker, on a city map, the picture of drug use, location of children’s homes and where adults of concern were located.

‘This was enabling all of the YOT staff (and others within the authority) to quickly and discreetly identify and respond if children and young people were going into risky places or associating with people who might harm them.’

One youth who went through the YOT, who cannot be named, said the team kept him optimistic.

‘Basically they just kept me positive,’ he told inspectors. He added: ‘I’m never gonna offend again but the YOT helped me to keep that attitude.’

But inspectors were less impressed that interventions with a youth were not carried out in just under half of the cases they looked into where interventions were identified as being needed.

And in a fifth of cases where a young person was given a community sentence, no work was started by case workers to reduce the risk to the public. The risk reduction work was also missing in cases where a youth got a custodial sentence.

The report also says child sex exploitation was not discussed as a regular item at board meetings.

Cllr Neill Young, Portsmouth City Council’s cabinet member for children and young people said: ‘This result is a real credit to the team and broader partnership who have worked incredibly hard to improve outcomes for young people.

‘The inspectors have been clearly impressed with the relationship not only between the YOT and young people, but also the effective joint working with Children’s Social Care, the police and other colleagues.’

He added: ‘Our priority is to support young people and prevent reoffending and I’m delighted that we’re heading in the right direction.’

HM Chief Inspector of Probation Paul Wilson said: ‘The improvements achieved were significant and in every criterion that was inspected, progress had been made.’