Professor Steve Case

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Steve Case

By Admin, Jan 25 2018 04:09PM

Youth justice in England and Wales needs a vigorous shake-up – not a radical overhaul, but a shake-up. Many of the essential building blocks are already in place, including progressive professional attitudes and practice cultures. With this in mind, the time has come for children first justice. The perfect storm of economic and political uncertainty, ironically, has created the space and opportunity for rethinking youth justice and encouraging new frameworks for practice. Children first justice is ideally suited to this purpose. Existing youth justice is untenable.


What doesn’t work

The Youth Justice System (YJS) has over 20 years of policy, practice and research experience indicating that punitive and risk-based approaches do not work. These approaches label and marginalise children, restrict and disengage practitioners, portray policymakers and politicians as uncaring and detached (Case 2018). However, with some notable exceptions, these same youth justice professionals and politicians are trying hard to help and support children (along with saving money and protecting the public). But they are being handicapped by ill-conceived strategy. Punitiveness and the risk paradigm have had their day in the sun. The youth justice powers that be (e.g. Youth Justice Board/YJB, Ministry of Justice/MoJ, HMI Probation/HMIP, this week’s Justice Minister) need to let these approaches fade away. Forget superficial claims to effectiveness, efficiency and economy. Any effectiveness measured through ‘key performance indicators’ (especially falls in first-time entrants and custody rates) is largely attributable to a couple of influences bearing no relation to the risk paradigm:


1) changes in systemic activities – perhaps most notably the abolition of police ‘Offences Brought to Justice’ targets, but also an increasing emphasis upon diversion locally and nationally;


2) local mediation of centralised policy prescriptions - for example, the localised use of diversion before it became obligatory, an increasing focus on the well-being of children who offend and using custody as a last resort.


In addition, the long-standing inability to reduce ‘reoffending rates’ is a damning indictment of the ineffectiveness of the risk paradigm and the redundancy and inappropriateness of using reoffending ‘rates’ as a key performance indicator in the first place. Furthermore, the risk paradigm is neither efficient nor economical - it drowns practitioners in paperwork and mires children in the YJS for disproportionate lengths of time, during which they can be further criminalised, stigmatised and disengaged - a textbook argument for diversion! The risk paradigm is anti-child, doesn’t work and should be killed off, yet its insidious influence persists. For a system so risk averse, it certainly isn’t averse to risk.


We know better

The continued obsession with risk is inexplicable for a YJS that knows better and is under constant pressure to do better. As key stakeholders, we know what is wrong with the risk paradigm in practical, methodological and ethical terms; after all, these criticisms underpinned the rationale for abolishing the Scaled Approach and introducing AssetPlus (Baker 2014). We also know what type of progressive (child-friendly, non-punitive, anti-risk) philosophies, strategies and practices we should implement, as these now have large and cogent evidence bases internationally and at home. Look no further than Surrey’s ‘Youth Support Service’, Oldham’s ‘Positive Steps’ initiative, the work of the ‘Greater Manchester Youth Justice Partnership’, Cheshire’s ‘DIVERT’ program and the Welsh ‘Bureau’ model(Case 2018). The critique of the Scaled Approach and this evidence-base for progressive practice is why AssetPlus focuses on desistance, strengths, practitioner discretion and relationship-building; why LASPO 2012 reintroduced diversion through a new out-of-court sentencing process; why the YJB has a Participation Strategy to build practice relationships with children. More broadly, we know that the YJS cannot continue to label and punish children who offend or to work in isolation to address children’s needs and problems. This is why the National Strategy for the Policing of Children and Young People (2015) is ‘child centred’; why the Welsh youth justice strategy (2014) is ‘Children and Young People First’; why the Taylor Review (2016) recommended an integrated, diversionary and ‘children first’ system; why the Sentencing Council (2017) recommended non-criminalising and welfare-based sentencing for children who offend. It is also why the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, a campaigning body with membership from over 50 academic, policy and practice organisations, advocates for ‘a child-focused youth justice system’. In this respect, recognising children first justice is pushing against an open door. But policy isn’t practice.


The need to respond to risk

Progressive policy intent is seriously undermined by the insidious and misguided promotion of the risk paradigm. Since the Taylor Review, nothing of note has happened to move the YJS any closer to its positive recommendations, other than the appointment of the author himself to chair the YJB. Conversely, over the same period, the MoJ has published the report, ‘What works in managing young people who offend’ (Adler 2016), which is entirely founded on programmes meeting the ‘Risk-Needs-Responsivity’ (RNR) model: measuring risk of reoffending, addressing ‘criminogenic needs’ (risk factors) and being responsive (in interventions) to the need for relationship-building and promoting children’s strengths (similar to AssetPlus). I argue strongly that this is a regressive step because the positive features of responsivity (relationship-building, strengths focus) are contradictory to the negative risk-needs focus, which disengages and stigmatise children, largely through adult-centric, tick-box and deficit-focused assessment practice. The YJB has reinforced the risk focus in successive briefings focused on reducing reoffending (YJB 2016). And preventing offending (YJB 2017), asserting that there is ‘strong evidence about risk factors for offending’. This is simply not true. The risk paradigm evidence-based is a monolithic, methodologically-dubious and harmful self-fulfilling prophecy (Case and Haines 2009). It is worrying that the powers that be have reverted to uncritical support for the risk paradigm (in the guise of RNR), when the introduction of AssetPlus and new diversion processes indicated a move away from (although not necessarily abandonment of) such negative excesses.


Progressive prevention-promotion

There appears to be deep-rooted confusion and misunderstanding regarding the central planks of youth justice policy and practice, particularly around the concept of prevention, which is the main objective of the YJS. This confusion and misunderstanding restricts progression. Let me address the main areas in which prevention has been misunderstood:


• Prevention need not be risk-focused - even when targeted and individualised, prevention practice can focus on addressing children’s needs, wishes, rights, strengths and opportunities, rather than necessarily emphasising risk factors. To this extent, the prevention of negative behaviours/outcomes (e.g. re/offending) need not be the limit of youth justice ambition - we can prioritise the promotion of positive behaviours/outcomes through promotional, prosocial approaches that have been evidenced to simultaneously support traditional prevention goals (Haines and Case 2015);


• Desistance is more than prevention – AssetPlus provides the space for practitioners to pursue the promotion of positive behaviours/outcomes, strengths and foundations for change (e.g. in behaviour, attitudes, identity) as pivotal to the desistance process. However, lack of understanding of and training relating to desistance (not to mention engagement), an overwhelming focus on process and the emphasis on ‘risk-reducing’ activities within HMIP inspection criteria has encouraged practitioners (especially those with limited experience) to revert to ‘business as usual’ - targeting criminogenic needs/risk factors and prioritising the prevention of negative behaviours (see Hampson 2017). Thus, the risk paradigms provides a fall-back position, but sidesteps more progressive intent to foster strong, engaging relationships with children and build on their strengths and capacities (e.g. through motivational interviewing, empathy building, applying the Good Lives Model);


• Diversion is more than prevention - diversion from offending and from YJS processes can serve prevention goals. However, diversion is much more than this. Diversion into other systems and into positive behaviours/outcomes should be the priority of the out-of-court system; prevention outcomes will occur as a by-product (n.b. exactly the same argument could be made about ‘early intervention’, a concept regularly and wrongly conflated with prevention);


The YJS seems reticent to let go of its risk-focused prevention agenda. There is clearly much brand loyalty and vested interest around this agenda. Much time, effort and money has been invested into its development. But loyalty and investment are no reason to resist change, let alone reason to continue to promote a risk agenda so clearly anathema to progressive intent. The recommended children first justice paradigm offers a pragmatic alternative to risk – one founded in promoting positive behaviours/outcomes, the implementation of diversion desistance approaches positive goals and more holistic processes of assessment and intervention that place ‘children first’ in our understandings of offending (Haines and Case 2015). A move to children first justice necessitates a change of perspective and a change of policy and practice culture - a move away from the risk paradigm and prevention obsession. Many youth justice professionals, YOTs and third sector organisations already practice much of what is being preached here.


Many youth justice professionals agree with the central principles of children first justice, including the chair of the YJB and certain amongst the new board members who have been pursuing this approach in their work for a number of years. Yet centralised practice requirements and recommendations continue to hamstring progress. If the ambition of children first justice is to be realised, then the YJB and HMIP must ensure that their work is more deeply grounded in youth justice practice, policy and academic expertise. In particular, there is a need to work with experts to establish clear, consistent understandings of central concepts and practical, progressive pathways to their implementation. The recent appointment of a new raft of YJB board members, many of whom offer such expertise, is a welcome step towards this. The time has come to formalise children first justice recommendations in policy and strategy, giving youth justice professionals the permission, time and space to (continue to) pursue and expand the children first perspectives and practices that they already subscribe to the local level.



By stephencase, Dec 7 2017 04:17PM

As lecturers, we are acutely aware that higher education (HE) in the UK is an intensely competitive field. Increasing numbers of universities offer increasing numbers of courses to a limited base of students – all of whom pay significant tuition fees and demand value for money in return. Universities face mounting pressures to improve teaching provision - student numbers, contact hours, programme diversity, teaching quality, learning resources, employability, student satisfaction and so on. These pressures are made increasingly visible and significant to lecturers and other key stakeholders (e.g. university management, students, parents, employers, media, politicians) through a plethora of league tables and REF/TEF exercises. At the same time, our universities face mounting pressures to reduce expenditure in the face of deep-rooted economic austerity and exponential political uncertainty. Consequently, the modern-day HE paradox is one of universities needing to do more with less. These paradoxical pressures are inevitably passed down to us – lecturing staff – as the university’s agents of teaching quality


Student engagement as a way of travel

So how do we continue to enhance our students’ learning experience with less time, less money, fewer resources and fewer colleagues? A contemporary solution lies in student engagement – strategies, mechanisms and activities to encourage students’ involvement in/commitment to their studies along their learning journey, inside and outside of the classroom. In HE, we’ve has placed too much emphasis on staff-led measures for improving student engagement during face-to-face contact sessions (e.g. lectures, seminars, tutorials), including increasing the diversity of our learning/teaching/assessment methods and student feedback mechanisms. These measures are hugely important, of course, particularly in such a competitive climate, inhabited by students more demanding of choice, quality and enhanced employability. However, the insidious emphasis on commodifying HE and pleasing the student ‘customer’ puts the cart before the horse. Valid, sustainable student engagement is driven by students - working closely, openly and responsibly with us (supportive teaching staff) and their course materials, immersing themselves in their studies. Student engagement means engagement by students, not simply the engagement of students by staff.


The E3 student: Effective, Engaged and Employable

When planning and writing the new ‘Criminology’ textbook with Oxford University Press (Case et al 2017), we developed the analogy of student engagement as a journey. On this journey, teaching staff guide students in their discovery of effective learning strategies and engagement mechanisms that ultimately enhance their student experience. This is the journey to becoming and being an E3 student:


Effective: fully informed and aware of the information, traits, skills, experiences and support mechanisms required for academic success;

Engaged: willing and committed to maximise the student experience through participation in and dedication to studies;

Employable: developing and possessing personal transferable skills, experiences and a CV that enhance job prospects.


We conceived of the E3 student as (striving to be) a proactive, critical, strategic and independent learner - a dynamic manipulator and constructor of knowledge, rather than a passive recipient and regurgitator of information. These are the students who make full use of the teaching capacity of staff and departmental resources; who maximise their learning experiences. Crucially, we as lecturers empower our students to take responsibility for their own engagement. However, many of us know the dangers of student engagement diminishing during independent study hours. Students can complain of insufficient guidance in the effective utilisation of their significant periods of independent study time. They may feel cut adrift from their programmes and teaching staff; they may feel directionless when engaging with course materials without the supervision of an experienced and knowledgeable lecturer. Their learning journey may stall or deviate off course as a result. Students should be made responsible for their learning journey outside of the classroom of course, but they must also be supported and empowered by us to exercise this responsibility. A key issue, therefore, is how to bridge or ‘scaffold’ the gulf between engaging with students in the classroom and encouraging their engagement independently?


The interactive textbook as route map

One solution to this dilemma is glaringly obvious – make textbooks more engaging! The academic textbook can be the cornerstone of learning in HE. However, these same textbooks can be dry, non-engaging storage facilities for information, failing to consistently interact and engage with the student reader. So are we missing a trick? Why not use textbooks as route maps to guide the learning journey, speaking directly to students in accessible ways and empowering them to become E3 learners? The textbook is a vital travel partner for students as they progress through a subject, so why not maximise its impact on independent study time and on the student experience? During production of the ‘Criminology’ textbook, we interacted intensively regarding content, structure and style with our intended audience: students (31 reviewers - 6 consultation stages) and lecturers (74 reviewers - 8 consultation stages). Consequently, planning and execution of the learning material was interactive throughout. The textbook itself is similarly interactive, containing a series of invented and adapted ‘key features’ that engage and interact with the reader, whilst encouraging the reader to engage and interact with the course material within (and beyond) the textbook. In addition to the standard chapter review and multiple choice questions, further readings and online resources, we attempt to animate and personalise discussion with (inter) activities including:


What do you think? scenarios encouraging students to reflect on and challenge their own perspectives and preconceptions around key issues;


Controversy and debate activities stimulating critical discussion and critique regarding contentious areas of the subject;


Telling it like it is testimonies from academics, professionals and students offering personalised insight, experience and advice to stimulate understanding and analysis;


Conversations with key stakeholders in our field (including students) providing personal accounts and unique perspectives to foster engagement with the application of academic knowledge and skills in the ‘real world’;


New frontiers boxes motivating students to explore and progress their knowledge of cutting-edge ideas, concepts and initiatives at the forefront of a dynamic discipline.


Each of these key features work in combination with a through-going writing style that has been developed and refined (following student and lecturer feedback) to be student-friendly and accessible, demystifying complex ideas in accessible ways. The over-arching aim throughout is to engender an ABC (Always Be Critical) mind-set that students can carry with them as a way of travel on their journey to deeper engagement with their studies. The underpinning objective is to narrow the space between ourselves, our students and their course materials by challenging students to take ownership of their academic learning journey and to learn in an active and dynamic way. The key message from our textbook production process has been that student engagement can be harnessed as a way of travel on the learning journey – with the interactive textbook serving as a guide on this journey to becoming and being an E3 student.


Notes


The ‘Criminology’ textbook, authored by Case, Johnson, Manlow, Smith and Williams (2017) is available from Oxford University Press.


An associated short podcast, ‘Studying criminology: why and how’ is available at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RIs883hZ468






By stephencase, Nov 1 2016 04:19PM

In my previous blog, Negative youth justice: Creating the youth crime ‘problem’, I offered a somewhat scathing and sceptical perspective on contemporary youth justice, particularly how youth offending (understood through a risk perspective) has become a political stick with which to beat children and young people. It is my contention that the governmental youth justice project, until recent progressive developments (e.g. AssetPlus, enhanced diversionary mechanisms), has adopted an excessively negative focus and a micro-managed approach that has stifled practitioner creativity and artificially restricted explanations of youth offending and responses to ‘youth offenders’. It's well worth re-reading my previous critical dissection of the Youth Justice System (YJS) to give you context for my subsequent arguments (www.cycj.org.uk/negative-youth-justice-creating-the-youth-crime-problem/). Even as an avowedly critical youth justice academic, I’m constantly shocked by the damaging, criminalising and dehumanising portrayal and treatment of children and young people who offend by contemporary youth justice systems; by the absence of foundational principles for practice and by the marginalisation of children and young people from youth justice processes. I'm even more shocked by the continued obsession with risk as a guiding concept for youth justice practice (Haines and Case 2009 - https://www.routledge.com/Understanding-Youth-Offending-Risk-Factor-Reserach-Policy-and-Practice/Case-Haines/p/book/9781843923411) and by government belligerence and resistance to progressive and principled systemic change. The suggestion (to me) is that risk assessment and intervention is a ‘no-brainer’ solution to the alleged youth crime problem, despite compelling international evidence that diversion, restorative justice and promotional interventions have a more substantive and sustainable impact on the extent and nature of youth offending and the quality of children's lives. Regardless of the wealth of contrary evidence (risk bad, positive approaches good, YJS succeeding in reducing first-time entrants and custody levels), the newer version of the new Conservative government (Theresa May as Prime Minister, Liz Truss as Justice Secretary) appears to want a newer version of the new Conservative approach to youth justice (new government, new idea – a recurring theme in youth justice). The Charlie Taylor review of the YJS commissioned by the Conservatives has been placed in stasis, as have the other progressive intentions of previous Justice Secretary, but notorious Brexiteer, Michael Gove (e.g. problem-solving courts, sweeping prison reforms). So, the new model is on hold until a newer new model can be identified. My proposal, therefore, is for a radical reorientation of youth justice through a series of positive practice principles that coalesce to form a newer new model: Positive Youth Justice: Children First, Offenders Second. Positive Youth Justice (PYJ) is the solution to the youth crime ‘problem’ because it deproblematises and normalises offending by children and young people, viewing it as an everyday behaviour requiring supportive and appropriate responses. In other words, PYJ doesn’t treat youth crime as a new or growing problem, so doesn’t introduce methods that sustain and exacerbate it. Better still, PYJ is evidenced (tick!) and economical (double tick!), thus attractive to government and compelling for local authorities when the localisation/devolution agenda comes to pass.



What is Positive Youth Justice?

On April 1, 2000, Swansea Youth Offending Team (YOT) officially came into being under the Crime and Disorder 1998 (as did all other YOTs in England and Wales). On the same day, the organisation welcomed a fresh-faced, open-minded young PhD student from the local university, giving him an office and open access to all of their data, practitioners, young people, families and networks. Sixteen years, a couple of books and many research articles later, I’d like to tell you what that young researcher found at Swansea, across Wales and beyond on his journey to the cynical, opinionated professor that I am now!


In my view, Swansea practiced a distinctive form of youth justice that was underpinned by a local commitment to promoting positive behaviours and outcomes for young people through the strategies, programmes and projects of statutory and voluntary agencies (not just the YOT) and driven by an innovative and brave YOT manager called Eddie Isles. Further support for this approach came from an equivalent national (Welsh Government) commitment to promotional and entitlements-based social policy for children and young people and an evolving research relationship with Professor Kevin Haines (my then PhD supervisor and perennial mentor) who had developed the ‘children first’ principle of youth justice with Professor Mark Drakeford (Haines and Drakeford 1998). I was blessed with a confluence of positive circumstances. I became immersed in a highly progressive local youth justice context in a highly progressive national social policy context, guided by highly progressive youth justice professionals. Our University-YOT research partnership until the untimely retirement of Eddie Isles in 2012 provided experiences and produced evidence that enabled us to identify a coherent, progressive alternative model of youth justice. A subsequent working relationship with the ground-breaking Surrey Youth Support Service (YSS) and emerging dialogues with other forward-thinking youth justice service providers (e.g. Oldham. Kent, Bedfordshire) has offered further evidence of the effectiveness and impact of positive youth justice principles in practice. The Positive Youth Justice model can be divided into five easy pieces; five clear principles for practice: children first, positive promotion, engagement, diversion and evidence-based partnership.


1. Children First

All youth justice practice should put children first, prioritising their status as a ‘child’ and its associated (limited) maturity, capabilities, abilities and power above any master status of ‘offender’ conferred by their behaviour. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as anyone below the age of 18, so by this measure, any ‘young offender’ is essentially a child - vulnerable, innocent (although degree of culpability is moot and variable across the 10 to 17 age range) and in need of support and protection by and from adults. Whether they offend or not, children are not fully developed or empowered adults with the same cognitive, social and economic resources enjoyed by adults, so they should not be treated as such (Haines and Case 2015 - https://policypress.co.uk/positive-youth-justice). Rather than ‘adulterising’ (treating as adults) and ‘responsibilising’ (holding fully responsible for her actions) children who offend, youth justice responses should be child-friendly and child-appropriate. Offending behaviour by children should be seen as only one part of their much broader identity and so responded to in holistic, multi-agency and integrated ways (cf. the Scottish Whole Systems Approach), rather than dealt with in isolation by siloed, offender and offence-focused YOTs. Only then can those responses hope to be valid, meaningful and sustainable in the real lives of children and young people experiencing problems. Every other principle of positive youth justice practice links to and reinforces this children first, child-friendly commitment.


2. Positive Promotion

Youth justice strategy and practice should promote positive behaviours, outcomes, services and opportunities for all children the YJS (and when they move beyond it) as priority, rather than pursuing a narrow focus on preventing risk-based negative outcomes. The positive, promotional approach is proven ‘effective’ practice (not always in the narrow governmental sense necessarily) for improving positive outcomes such as increasing access to rights/entitlements and participation in prosocial school and community activities (Haines and Case 2015 - https://policypress.co.uk/positive-youth-justice). Crucially, positive promotion can also reduce the negative outcomes prioritised by the dominant negative prevention- and risk-focused form of youth justice (e.g. offending, reoffending, substance use, exposure to risk), so problematic offending-related issues are not ignored, but instead they are addressed in a principled, promotional, children first manner. Surrey YSS provides an evidenced application of child-friendly, integrated positive promotion through their substitution of AssetPlus with the Common Assessment Framework as a needs-led means of pursuing positive outcomes such as increased participation and engagement with education, training and skills development (cf. Byrne and Case 2016 - http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/SC-11-2015-0036).


3. Engagement

Children are part of the solution to youth crime, not part of the problem. The much-neglected perspectives of practitioners can contribute further to this solution. Positive Youth Justice encourages practitioners and policy makers to work in partnership with these children to promote their interests, needs, rights and views as paramount throughout youth justice processes. Positive Youth Justice moves practice beyond the deficit-focused model of negative youth justice (which can punish children who offend for their individual failings) and towards a more constructive, child-appropriate approach in which children are rewarded for their achievements. Consequently, adult practitioners view themselves as working with and for the children with whom they engage, rather than as representatives of other interest groups (for example, the YJS, community, victims). The priority for staff is to engage closely and regularly with children. This is the over-arching philosophy of most YOT practitioners anyway, so the PYJ model simply provides them with a coherent set of structures and principles to facilitate this goal. It is crucial, therefore, that children who come into contact with the YJS are facilitated (by adult practitioners) to express their views on issues that affect them, enabled to participate equitably in decision making regarding their futures, and that access to their universal entitlements as set out in progressive policy statements and international conventions is promoted. These features coalesce to produce a model of delivering youth justice that can be viewed as legitimate to children (i.e. moral, fair, deserved, equitable), thus increasing the likelihood of them engaging with (investing in, believing in, committing to) the approach. In this way, children’s engagement with youth justice practice and practitioners goes deeper than the fundamentals of voluntarism, trust, respect and fairness (although these remain essential building blocks of the engagement relationship) and moves towards more positive notions of partnership, reciprocity, investment and legitimate participation in decision-making processes.


4. Diversion

Children should be diverted out of the formal YJS and into positive, promotional, progressive interventions. Progressive diversion can promote positive outcomes by (adults) enabling children to access constructive activities and interventions that promote success, achievement, capacity-building and access to entitlements and support services. Diversion can also stimulate reductions in negative outcomes (the measures by which YOT performance is assessed) such as entering the YJS for the first time, obtaining a criminal record, reoffending and reconviction, along with other indicators of collateral damage such as punishment, labelling and criminalisation. The effectiveness of progressive diversion has been evidenced by the Bureau model, which has now been rolled out across Wales (Haines and Case 2015 - https://policypress.co.uk/positive-youth-justice), along with the impressive (system leading) reductions in first-time entrants into the YJS achieved by Surrey YSS (cf. Bryrne and Case 2016 - http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/SC-11-2015-0036). The Bureau incorporates systems management (child-focused decision-making at all stages of the youth justice process) and partnership between practitioners (e.g. police, youth justice staff, teachers), children and families during assessment (prolonged, holistic assessment process consulting with all relevant parties), decision-making/sentencing and intervention planning. These shared processes emphasise the positive, promotional elements of consultation, agreement and legitimacy (fair, moral, justified treatment of children).


5. Evidence-based partnership

Responses to children in the YJS should be underpinned by genuine, engaging partnership working that is evidence-based. Partnership is critical to the success of prevention of offending and this partnership needs to be evident at the strategic level and in practice and delivery. The development and implementation of reflective child-friendly youth justice services and interventions should be guided by evidence-based partnership between children and their families (cf. the ‘Team Around the Child/Family’ model that is applied in many localities across the UK), youth justice practitioners, policy makers and academic researchers (cf. the work of Greater Manchester Youth Justice University Partnership - http://www2.mmu.ac.uk/mcys/gmyjup/). Such a meaningful partnership approach guards against the government predilection for privileging risk-based, pseudo-psychological, Americanised, offender-focused ‘what works’ approaches – what Rod Morgan (former chair of the Youth Justice Board) dubbed ‘programme fetishism’. It seems obvious to me that instead of this obsession with off the shelf, fashionable programmes, effective youth justice should be developed in partnership with children, the very group that they are aimed at and targeted on. All too often children are seen as a problem to be fixed, rather than a resourceful part of the solution to their own circumstances. Similarly, practitioners are cast as the fixers of the problem, but given insufficient space, time or tools to employ their expertise and discretion and to reflect on, enhance and innovative children first, positive practice. Therefore, the generation of evidence to inform and shape youth justice practice should be open-minded, reflexive and bottom-up, rather than restricted, prescriptive and top-down, developed in locally-sensitive partnership with children and other key stakeholders.


Conclusion: From negative to positive youth justice

The five easy pieces of Positive Youth Justice constitute five not so easy principles to employ in an everyday youth justice practice that is heavily-managed, prescribed and directed by central government. However, the gathering pace of public service reform and the potential for local devolution of policy and practice (albeit more motivated by economic austerity and political expedience rather than child- and practitioner-focused principles) offers fresh hope that space is emerging for localised discretion and mediation of government directives. The local mediation of practice prescriptions to reflect certain principles of Positive Youth Justice is already evident and growing in many areas, although the wholesale (not piecemeal) adoption of the model and its inevitable break from statutory (negative) youth justice requirements is perhaps most developed in Surrey YSS. The challenge for local youth justice remains one of negotiating the messy complexities of real life - reconciling a positive, principled and progressive practice agenda with entrenched government requirements to pursue prescribed prevention and risk agendas. The negotiation and reconciliation of the prescriptive negative with the progressive positive must also balance children first ways of working with statutory requirements to address victims’ needs to enhance public protection. Both of these foci necessitate and deserve bespoke practice supplementary and complementary to (but never instead of) child-focused responses. These agendas do not need to be in competition – they can be complementary. Prioritising the child and children first principles across all youth justice practice will benefit children (obviously), families, communities, victims and the public through reduction (of first-time entrants, offending, reoffending, custody) and promotion (of positive, prosocial, sustainable behaviours and outcomes) – an evidence-based, effective practice model fit for the 21st century.



For further information and notification and future blogs, please visit:


www.profstevecase.com



By stephencase, Oct 24 2016 08:53AM


In my previous blog, Negative youth justice: Creating the youth crime ‘problem’, I offered a somewhat scathing and sceptical perspective on contemporary youth justice, particularly how youth offending (understood through a risk perspective) has become a political stick with which to beat children and young people. It is my contention that the governmental youth justice project, until recent progressive developments (e.g. AssetPlus, enhanced diversionary mechanisms), has adopted an excessively negative focus and a micro-managed approach that has stifled practitioner creativity and artificially restricted explanations of youth offending and responses to ‘youth offenders’. It's well worth re-reading my previous critical dissection of the Youth Justice System (YJS) to give you context for my subsequent arguments (www.cycj.org.uk/negative-youth-justice-creating-the-youth-crime-problem/). Even as an avowed critical youth justice academic, I’m constantly shocked by the damaging, criminalising and dehumanising portrayal and treatment of children and young people who offend by contemporary youth justice systems; by the absence of foundational principles for practice and by the marginalisation of children and young people from youth justice processes. I'm even more shocked by the continued obsession with risk as a guiding concept for youth justice practice (Haines and Case 2009 - https://www.routledge.com/Understanding-Youth-Offending-Risk-Factor-Reserach-Policy-and-Practice/Case-Haines/p/book/9781843923411) and by government belligerence and resistance to progressive and principled systemic change. The suggestion (to me) is that risk assessment and intervention is a ‘no-brainer’ solution to the alleged youth crime problem, despite compelling international evidence that diversion, restorative justice and promotional interventions have a more substantive and sustainable impact on the extent and nature of youth offending and the quality of children's lives. Regardless of the wealth of contrary evidence (risk bad, positive approaches good, YJS succeeding in reducing first-time entrants and custody levels), the newer version of the new Conservative government (Theresa May as Prime Minister, Liz Truss as Justice Secretary) appears to want a newer version of the new Conservative approach to youth justice (new government, new idea – a recurring theme in youth justice). The Charlie Taylor review of the YJS commissioned by the Conservatives has been placed in stasis, as have the other progressive intentions of previous Justice Secretary, but notorious Brexiteer, Michael Gove (e.g. problem-solving courts, sweeping prison reforms). So, the new model is on hold until a newer new model can be identified. My proposal, therefore, is for a radical reorientation of youth justice through a series of positive practice principles that coalesce to form a newer new model: Positive Youth Justice: Children First, Offenders Second. Positive Youth Justice (PYJ) is the solution to the youth crime ‘problem’ because it deproblematises and normalises offending by children and young people, viewing it as an everyday behaviour requiring supportive and appropriate responses. In other words, PYJ doesn’t treat youth crime as a new or growing problem, so doesn’t introduce methods that sustain and exacerbate it. Better still, PYJ is evidenced (tick!) and economical (double tick!), thus attractive to government and compelling for local authorities when the localisation/devolution agenda comes to pass.


What is Positive Youth Justice?

On April 1, 2000, Swansea Youth Offending Team (YOT) officially came into being under the Crime and Disorder 1998 (as did all other YOTs in England and Wales). On the same day, the organisation welcomed a fresh-faced, open-minded young PhD student from the local university, giving him an office and open access to all of their data, practitioners, young people, families and networks. Sixteen years, a couple of books and many research articles later, I’d like to tell you what that young researcher found at Swansea, across Wales and beyond on his journey to the cynical, opinionated professor that I am now! In my view, Swansea practiced a distinctive form of youth justice that was underpinned by a local commitment to promoting positive behaviours and outcomes for young people through the strategies, programmes and projects of statutory and voluntary agencies (not just the YOT) and driven by an innovative and brave YOT manager called Eddie Isles. Further support for this approach came from an equivalent national (Welsh Government) commitment to promotional and entitlements-based social policy for children and young people and an evolving research relationship with Professor Kevin Haines (my then PhD supervisor and perennial mentor) who had developed the ‘children first’ principle of youth justice with Professor Mark Drakeford (Haines and Drakeford 1998). I was blessed with a confluence of positive circumstances. I became immersed in a highly progressive local youth justice context in a highly progressive national social policy context, guided by highly progressive youth justice professionals. Our University-YOT research partnership until the untimely retirement of Eddie Isles in 2012 provided experiences and produced evidence that enabled us to identify a coherent, progressive alternative model of youth justice. A subsequent working relationship with the groundbreaking Surrey Youth Support Service (YSS) and emerging dialogues with other progressive YOTs (e.g. Oldham. Kent, Bedfordshire) has provided further evidence of the effectiveness and impact of positive youth justice principles in practice. The Positive Youth Justice model can be divided into five easy pieces; five clear principles for practice: children first, positive promotion, engagement, diversion and evidence-based partnership.


1. Children First

All youth justice practice should put children first, prioritising their status as a ‘child’ and its associated (limited) maturity, capabilities, abilities and power above any master status of ‘offender’ conferred by their behaviour. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as anyone below the age of 18, so by this measure, any ‘young offender’ is essentially a child - vulnerable, innocent (although degree of culpability is moot and variable across the 10 to 17 age range) and in need of support and protection by and from adults. Whether they offend or not, children are not fully developed or empowered adults with the same cognitive, social and economic resources enjoyed by adults, so they should not be treated as such (Haines and Case 2015 - https://policypress.co.uk/positive-youth-justice). Rather than ‘adulterising’ (treating as adults) and ‘responsibilising’ (holding fully responsible for her actions) children who offend, youth justice responses should be child-friendly and child-appropriate. Offending behaviour by children should be seen as only one part of their much broader identity and so responded to in holistic, multi-agency and integrated ways (cf. the Scottish Whole Systems Approach), rather than dealt with in isolation by siloed, offender and offence-focused YOTs. Only then can those responses hope to be valid, meaningful and sustainable in the real lives of children and young people experiencing problems. Every other principle of positive youth justice practice links to and reinforces this children first, child-friendly commitment.


2. Positive Promotion

Youth justice strategy and practice should promote positive behaviours, outcomes, services and opportunities for all children the YJS (and when they move beyond it) as priority, rather than pursuing a narrow focus on preventing risk-based negative outcomes. The positive, promotional approach is proven ‘effective’ practice (not in the governmental sense necessarily) for improving positive outcomes such as increasing access to rights/entitlements and participation in prosocial school and community activities (Haines and Case 2015 - https://policypress.co.uk/positive-youth-justice). Crucially, positive promotion can also reduce the negative outcomes prioritised by the dominant negative prevention- and risk-focused youth justice (e.g. offending, reoffending, substance use, exposure to risk), so problematic offending-related issues are not ignored, but instead they are addressed in a principled, promotional, children first manner. Surrey YSS provides an evidenced application of child-friendly, integrated positive promotion through their substitution of AssetPlus with of the Common Assessment Framework as a needs-led means of pursuing positive outcomes such as increased participation and engagement with education, training and skills development (cf. Bryrne and Case 2016 - http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/SC-11-2015-0036).


3. Engagement

Children are part of the solution to youth crime, not part of the problem. The much-neglected perspectives of practitioners can contribute further to this solution. Positive Youth Justice encourages practitioners and policy makers to work in partnership with these children to promote their interests, needs, rights and views as paramount throughout youth justice processes. Positive Youth Justice moves practice beyond the deficit-focused model of negative youth justice (which can punish children who offend for their individual failings) and towards a more constructive, child-appropriate approach in which children are rewarded for their achievements. Consequently, adult practitioners view themselves as working with and for the children with whom they engage, rather than as representatives of other interest groups (for example, the YJS, community, victims). The priority for staff is to engage closely and regularly with children. This is the over-arching philosophy of most YOT practitioners anyway, so the PYJ model simply provides them with a coherent set of structures and principles to facilitate this goal. It is crucial, therefore, that children who come into contact with the YJS are facilitated (by adult practitioners) to express their views on issues that affect them, enabled to participate equitably in decision making regarding their futures, and that access to their universal entitlements as set out in progressive policy statements and international conventions is promoted. These features coalesce to produce a model of delivering youth justice that can be viewed as legitimate to children (i.e. moral, fair, deserved, equitable), thus increasing the likelihood of them engaging with (investing in, believing in, committing to) the approach. In this way, children’s engagement with youth justice practice and practitioners goes deeper than the fundamentals of voluntarism, trust, respect and fairness (although these remain essential building blocks of the engagement relationship) and moves towards more positive notions of partnership, reciprocity, investment and legitimate participation in decision-making processes.


4. Diversion

Children should be diverted out of the formal YJS and into positive, promotional, progressive interventions. Progressive diversion can promote positive outcomes by (adults) enabling children to access constructive activities and interventions that promote success, achievement, capacity-building and access to entitlements and support services. Diversion can also stimulate reductions in negative outcomes (the measures by which YOT performance is assessed) such as entering the YJS for the first time, obtaining a criminal record, reoffending and reconviction, along with other indicators of collateral damage such as punishment, labelling and criminalisation. The effectiveness of progressive diversion has been evidenced by the Bureau model, which has now been rolled out across Wales (Haines and Case 2015 - https://policypress.co.uk/positive-youth-justice), along with the impressive (system leading) reductions in first-time entrants into the YJS achieved by Surrey YSS (cf. Bryrne and Case 2016 - http://www.emeraldinsight.com/doi/abs/10.1108/SC-11-2015-0036). The Bureau incorporates systems management (child-focused decision-making at all stages of the youth justice process) and partnership between practitioners (e.g. police, youth justice staff, teachers), children and families during assessment (prolonged, holistic assessment process consulting with all relevant parties), decision-making/sentencing and intervention planning. These shared processes emphasise the positive, promotional elements of consultation, agreement and legitimacy (fair, moral, justified treatment of children).


5. Evidence-based partnership

Responses to children in the YJS should be underpinned by genuine, engaging partnership working that is evidence-based. Partnership is critical to the success of prevention of offending and this partnership needs to be evident at the strategic level and in practice and delivery. The development and implementation of reflective child-friendly youth justice services and interventions should be guided by evidence-based partnership between children and their families (cf. the ‘Team Around the Child/Family’ model that is applied in many localities across the UK), youth justice practitioners, policy makers and academic researchers (cf. the work of Greater Manchester Youth Justice University Partnership). Such a meaningful partnership approach guards against the government predilection for privileging risk-based, pseudo-psychological, Americanised, offender-focused ‘what works’ approaches – what Rod Morgan (former chair of the Youth Justice Board) dubbed ‘programme fetishism’. It seems obvious to me that instead of this obsession with off the shelf, fashionable programmes, effective youth justice should be developed in partnership with children, the very group that they are aimed at and targeted on. All too often children are seen as a problem to be fixed, rather than a resourceful part of the solution to their own circumstances. Similarly, practitioners are cast as the fixers of the problem, but given insufficient space, time or tools to employ their expertise and discretion and to reflect on, enhance and innovative children first, positive practice. Therefore, the generation of evidence to inform and shape youth justice practice should be open-minded, reflexive and bottom-up, rather than restricted, prescriptive and top-down, developed in locally-sensitive partnership with children and other key stakeholders.


Conclusion: From negative to positive youth justice

The five easy pieces of Positive Youth Justice constitute five not so easy principles to employ in everyday youth justice practice that is heavily-managed, prescribed and directed by central government. However, the gathering pace of public service reform and the potential for local devolution of policy and practice (albeit more motivated by economic austerity and political expedience rather than child- and practitioner-focused principles) offers fresh hope that space is emerging for localised discretion and mediation of government directives. The local mediation of practice prescriptions to reflect certain principles of Positive Youth Justice is already evident and growing in many areas, although the wholesale (not piecemeal) adoption of the model and its inevitable break from statutory (negative) youth justice requirements is perhaps most developed in Surrey YSS. The challenge for local youth justice remains one of negotiating the messy complexities of real life - reconciling a positive, principled and progressive practice agenda with entrenched government requirements to pursue prescribed prevention and risk agendas. The negotiation and reconciliation of the prescriptive negative with the progressive positive must also balance children first ways of working with statutory requirements to address victims’ needs to to ensure public protection – both of which necessitate and deserve bespoke practice additional to child-focused responses. These agendas do not need to be in competition – they can be complementary. Prioritising the child and children first principles across all youth justice practice will benefit children (obviously), families, communities, victims and the public through reduction (of first-time entrants, offending, reoffending, custody) and promotion (of positive, prosocial, sustainable behaviours and outcomes) – an evidence-based, effective practice model fit for the 21st century.


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