Children have a special place in society and deserve special treatment due to their lack of maturity, their relative powerlessness in decision-making processes and the need for adults to provide them with support and protection.

However, when children enter the Youth Justice System (YJS) of England and Wales, it seems that their treatment becomes ‘special’ in the sense of discriminatory, negative, controlling and punitive.

Children who commit crime, it seems, are held responsible for their perceived psychological and social ‘failings’ and ‘deficits’, which are seen to contribute to offending behaviour and to the failure of any formal interventions aiming to prevent future offending.

This unpalatable, grossly unfair situation has to change. Consequently, we have formulated a principled and progressive model of ‘positive youth justice’ that is fit for purpose and fit for our time.

Children First

Children First, Offenders Second (CFOS) is a positive approach to youth justice that is built on a set of policy and practice principles, the key to which is to treat children in child-friendly and child-appropriate ways.

Simply put, when children enter the YJS, we should treat them as ‘children first’, not ‘offenders first’ and treat their offending behaviour as a normal part of growing up.

“CFOS is a reaction to controlling, punitive and harmful interventions”

The philosophy of children first will help youth justice professionals to understand why they come into work every day and provide them with a touchstone against which they can measure their daily practice.

CFOS enables staff to understand what they do, why they do it in the way they do it and how they can reflect on the appropriateness and effectiveness of their work. It is a guiding philosophy for practice that gives clear objectives for practice and gives practitioners a sense of purpose to frame and animate their knowledge and skills.

Without this coherent and explicit philosophy, policies and practices are information and understanding without knowledge; skills are abilities and techniques without foundation or application.

CFOS is simultaneously reactionary and progressive. It is a reaction against the ways in which youth justice policies and practices subject children to (possibly well-meaning) interventions that are ultimately controlling, punitive and harmful. It is progressive in its philosophical, principled position and in its policy-practice focus.

We believe that for youth justice policies to be implemented effectively in practice, they must have clear, overarching objectives and be targeted on three key practice areas along a continuum of youth justice:

The Three Principles

Prevention (Positive Promotion): We advocate for the promotion of positive behaviours, outcomes, services and opportunities for all children, within and outside of the YJS.

The approach can be animated by adult service providers designing and delivering services in partnership with children; services that prioritise children’s consultation, participation and engagement in all decisions that affect them.

We evidenced this effectiveness in our national evaluation of the Welsh youth inclusion strategy ‘Extending Entitlement’ (Case et al 2005) in terms of improved positive outcomes and reduced negative outcomes (for children in the YJS) as well as improved perceptions of access to entitlements and ability to participate in services (for all children).


Diversion: We support a progressive diversion approach based on diverting children out of the formal YJS and into positive, promotional interventions.  The effectiveness of progressive diversion has been evidenced by
the Bureau model (now rolled out across Wales), which prioritises 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 – which are shared processes pursued by emphasising consultation, agreement and legitimacy (fair, moral, justified treatment of children).

Intervention: All intervention in the formal YJS should be child-friendly and child-appropriate. This means that policy-makers and practitioners should prioritise children’s participation and engagement in the design, delivery and evaluation of services.

The YJS should embed a systems management approach to intervention planning that is evidence-based (not pre-judged, pre-formed, ‘off the shelf’ interventions) and achieved through partnership between children, practitioners, policy-makers and researchers.

Such consultative and inclusionary ways of working with children in the YJS have been found to be effective internationally in relation to promoting positive outcomes (e.g. children’s perceptions of the increased legitimacy of their treatment, increased access to their entitlements) and decreases in the negative outcomes targeted by interventions (e.g. offending, reoffending, antisocial behaviour).

The new AssetPlus framework for assessment and intervention in England and Wales has the makings of such an approach to the extent that it promises more consultation with children in the YJS, more practitioner discretion, a more holistic understanding of children’s lives and more appropriate, effective interventions as a result.

“What CFOS requires to make it work is a change of attitude and practice…”

A CFOS approach to youth justice founded on positive promotion, diversion and intervention can be achieved within current legislation in England and Wales (along with other countries internationally). It does not require seismic policy shifts or huge injections of money in the short-term. What CFOS requires to make it work is a change of attitude and a change of practice.

A Children-First model for our time

CFOS is not a buffet from which to select some elements, whilst others can be ignored. The model is a whole child, holistic, coherent approach. Every component should be executed as assiduously and effectively as any other. CFOS and the interventions it delivers are child-friendly and child-appropriate, working to the central principles that prevention is better than cure and that children are part of the solution, not part of the problem.

“CFOS is a new way of framing and understanding the lives of these children”

As academics, we are often criticised (notably by politicians and frustrated policy makers) for being so critical, for pointing out what is wrong with the system, for highlighting its flaws and failings, for being against everything, but for offering nothing by way of an alternative. Through CFOS positive youth justice, we are engaging pro-actively in the debate about how we should respond to children in the YJS.

CFOS is our attempt to structure the answers to the question concerning the nature, intensity and timing of intervention in the YJS and a new (principled, progressive, pragmatic, positive) way of framing and understanding the lives of these children. With a new UK Government and a new Justice Minister inevitably looking for potential areas of youth justice reform, we offer a solution: CFOS.

This blog was authored by Professor Kevin Haines and Dr Stephen Case and was originally posted on the Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice Website.  The original post can be viewed here.

July 1st, 2015

Posted In: Youth Justice

Youth Justice practitioners employed in Youth Offending Services across Wales and England have had their voices silenced by recent developments in youth justice policy and practice.

The consequences of silencing the voices of those people charged with turning around the lives of some of our most troubled children include: de-professionalising practice, promoting ineffective practice and pursuing a restricted, negative perspective of young people – all in a non-evidenced way.

 The context of Youth Justice

The Youth Justice System (YJS) of England and Wales is overseen by the Youth Justice Board (YJB), an ‘independent’ organisation working closely with the government to support, guide, inform and monitor the practice of staff working in multi-agency Youth Offending Services (YOSs). The central element of youth justice practice under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 is direct work with those children who come into the YJS and the key aim of this practice is to prevent offending by those children.

Since its birth in 2000, the YJB has pursued a pseudo-scientific, psychologised agenda of ‘effective’, evidence-based’, ‘what works’ practice that focuses both the blame for offending and the responsibility for the success of interventions onto children. The YJB is heavily influenced by assumptions that ‘risk factors’ predict later offending and so must be targeted early on by risk-based intervention. Consequently, youth justice practice has been driven by the Scaled Approach, which links the level (frequency, intensity, duration) of intervention given to a child to their level of risk measured by YOS staff completing the Asset risk assessment instrument during interviews with children.

We don’t practice what we preach

According to the Youth Justice Board of England and Wales, a ‘key element of the effective practice’ meant to underpin the Scaled Approach is the engagement of children in youth justice processes, but little is said about engaging YOS staff in these processes, despite their pivotal role in leading practice relationships and facilitating change in children. Instead, the central feature of ‘effective’ youth justice practice for YOS staff is their ongoing critical reflection on their practice as defined within the parameters of Asset and the Scaled Approach.

Whilst YOS staff have been consulted sporadically on pre-formed Governmental plans to develop and implement risk-based youth justice processes, there has been a lack of meaningful consultation regarding the development of Asset and the Scaled Approach and an absence of reflection taking account of the views of practitioners on its implementation. The assumption, on the part of the YJB and others, has been that the Scaled Approach works and it is simply the role of practitioners to reflect on their assiduousness and alacrity in implementing it – a process akin to policy-based evidence, rather than evidence-based policy. This assumption was destroyed by the evidence from the Scaled Approach pilot exercise, which showed that assiduous implementation of the model led to alarming increases in reoffending and that practitioners were extremely unsupportive of the methodology – prompting us to rename it the ‘Failed Approach’ and playing (some) part in the YJB’s dramatic reconsideration of their assessment and intervention framework (now called AssetPlus).

The result of a top-down approach based on assumption, post-hoc consultation and self-fulfilling evidence-producing exercises is that so-called ‘evidence-based’ practice is not based on evidence provided by a key actor involved in animating this practice (i.e. YOS staff. The same argument can be made for children of course); effective practice that is prescribed without the engagement of the practitioner and reflective practice wherein YOS staff can only reflect in a token way on a process they are unable to influence. Put simply, youth justice practice has been developed without the meaningful input of those staff ultimately responsible for its implementation – the voices of YOT staff have not been heard and their contribution to improving practice has been neglected.

A prescription without a consultation

We have argued at length elsewhere about the detrimental and self-defeating effects of excluding the voices of children from youth justice processes and practices. However, it is possible that the neglect of practitioner voices in shaping youth justice processes is an issue even more overlooked by critics and advocates of system reform. The practice of youth justice is neutered when the YOS practitioners who are given the responsibility to ensure that the YJS ‘works’ to prevent offending are given very little responsibility to inform the objectives, content, methods and tools to innovate, develop and evaluate their own practice.

The risk obsessed and risk-averse methods forced onto practitioners post-Crime and Disorder Act 1998 have been badged as ‘effective’ and ‘evidence-based’ youth justice practice. In reality, they have compelled practitioners to comply with mechanised, technical modes of practice (e.g. heavily quantified risk assessment and intervention models, off the shelf intervention programmes) that have undermined both their expertise and discretion. This is the ‘korrectional karaoke’ that John Pitts chastised the Government for so many years ago.

The Government longstanding commitment to risk-led youth justice policy and practice (albeit soon to be redressed, we hope, by implementation of AssetPlus) has inevitably produced risk-led understandings of children’s lives and risk-led interventions to prevent offending. Consequently, experienced, resourceful and talented YOS staff have been neutered – forced into responding to children in the most simplistic and damaging ways (e.g. through risk-driven labelling, excessive intervention and control) due to their use of a restrictive and biased practice framework (the Scaled Approach) that dumbs down the complexities of children’s lives and hamstrings practice innovation.

Worse still, the negative nature of this prescribed practice undermines the practitioner-child relationship. Practitioners need to negotiate the contradiction of pursuing voluntary and positive engagement by the children in enforced, court-ordered interactions that portray them as blameworthy and irresponsible. The irony is stark – both practitioners and children are required to form engaging relationships as part of processes with which they have been forced to comply. The goal is for both parties to want to be where they have to be; to support something that they are made to do!

 The positive, progressive practitioner

But all is not lost. Practitioners are not the passive, helpless automatons that they may be (possibly inadvertently) portrayed as and prescribed into by YJB ‘effective’ practice guidelines. They do not require spoon-feeding. They do not need to be slaves to the machine. Practitioners are resourceful professionals who can mediate, moderate, mitigate and manipulate centralised practice demands to fit their experience and to fit the real-lives of the children they work in partnership with – read more here.  They can fit practice demands to their local, organisational and individual contexts and agendas. They can operate ‘under the radar’ of Government and local authorities, maintaining an invisibility that enables innovative and discretionary practice beyond the reductionist remit of YJB ‘effective practice’. This has been a badly kept secret in the YJS for many a year. In fact, the Government has finally shown signs of giving into the inevitability that practitioners will practice (not blindly follow) by introducing changes to youth justice processes that embrace expertise, discretion, flexibility and diversity.

Contemporary youth justice provides the space and flexibility for the discretionary diversion of children from the formal YJS (e.g. through the new pre-court sentencing process) and provides the promise of more voice for practitioners (and children) in a new (AssetPlus) assessment and intervention framework. But these changes are yet to bed in. They are nascent, emerging, evolving. They are promised and promising, not real and realised.  But they are undoubtedly a step in the right direction – towards a positive, truly evidence-based youth justice.

This blog was authored by Professor Kevin Haines and Dr Stephen Case and was originally posted on the Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice Website.  The original post can be viewed here.

May 19th, 2015

Posted In: Youth Justice

In this article, we argue that juvenile justice policy and practice across Europe in the 20th century has moved from prioritising the welfare of children who offend (putting children’s needs first) towards more justice-based approaches grounded in punishment and control (putting offenders first). Although contemporary 21stcentury juvenile justice has become more eclectic, integrating welfare and justice concerns with other foci such as education, restorative justice and diversion, many European countries have developed an over-riding obsession with measuring and responding to the risk that children allegedly present to themselves and others once they have offended. We will contrast the highly negative implications of risk-based juvenile justice with a positive, progressive and principled alternative approach to delivering juvenile justice known as Children First, Offenders Second.

The punitive turn – Adults doing to children in juvenile justice systems
Contemporary understandings of why children break the law and the approaches to delivering juvenile justice that follow from them are varied, dynamic and contested. They vary between European countries and between localities within these countries – shaped by a range of influences such as differing ages of criminal responsibility, shifting political climates and fluctuating socio-economic conditions. A constant across juvenile justice over time and place, however, has been the marginalisation of children by adults. Juvenile justice has traditionally been a process of adults doing to children rather than working with these children in any meaningful or participatory ways that incorporate children’s voices, views and experiences. There is a sense that once children enter ‘the system’, they must be kept in it and have their behaviour and attitudes controlled and fixed by adults.

In the 21st century, many European juvenile justice systems (most notably England and Wales), along with those in other industrialised Western countries (e.g. USA, Australia, Canada) have responded to the uncertainties and threats resulting from globalisation, economic austerity and political and media (mis)perceptions of escalating levels of juvenile crime by implementing a ‘punitive turn’ towards repressive and retributive (punishment-based) forms of juvenile justice. In this uncertain and insecure age, the question of how countries should deal with the perceived growing ‘youth crime problem’ has become a political football. Leaving aside issues with the socio-economic construction of any ‘problems’ caused by and visited upon young people across Europe, not to mention the social construction of crime statistics that constitute ‘evidence’ of these problems, the appropriateness of the question itself has not been at issue. A succession of European countries have taken for granted that crime committed by young people is an increasing problem that must be dealt with (cost) effectively without resort to the ‘failed’ welfare and justice methods of the past. The response to this assumption has been both revolutionary and alarming.

The negative obsession with risk
The ‘punitive turn’ in international juvenile justice has been evidenced and animated by the increasing popularity of the ‘Risk Factor Prevention Paradigm’ (RFPP) for responding to children who offend. The RFPP underpins a purportedly practical, straightforward and technical method of managing and controlling young people’s behavior. Juvenile justice practitioners use risk assessment tools (e.g. the popular ‘European Assessment of Risk and Needs’ instrument) to identify and quantify the ‘risk factors’ in young people’s lives (psychological, emotional, attitudinal, familial, educational, community-based, lifestyle-based) that allegedly increase the likelihood of future offending and that can then be targeted and prevented through risk-focused interventions (prioritising offence and offender characteristics).

Sometimes (far less often than supporters claim) there is an associated attempt to measure and target ‘protective factors’ that allegedly insulate young people against the effects of risk factors and prevent them from future offending and very seldom is there any focus on needs. The predominant focus is always risk. For example, the Scaled Approach in England and Wales quantifies a series of risk factors using a risk assessment instrument known as Asset, giving each young person a risk score (out of 64) which places them into a risk category (standard, enhanced, intensive). This risk category dictates (is ‘scaled’ to) the frequency, intensity and duration of the risk-focused intervention programme that the young person receives in response to their offending behavior. Such a risk-based form of juvenile justice is problematic on several levels, but these problems all boil down to one thing – presenting young people in an overwhelmingly negative way. Assessing young people’s lives in terms of risk factors is:

  • Correctionalist – aiming to correct perceived ‘deficits’ in the individual young person;
  • Responsibilising – placing the responsibility for the behavior and its associated influences/problems on the individual young person;
  • Interventionist – encouraging systems and adult practitioners to intervene and interfere in more and more aspects of young people’s lives at younger and younger ages using risk as the justification.

The RFPP encourages juvenile justice systems to understand, represent and respond to young people as negative, problematic, flawed, dangerous and risky. Young people are portrayed as offenders first (‘offender’ becomes their master status), not as children (first) who have offended as one part of their broader and more complex lives. This in turn encourages politicians, the media, the general public and even young people themselves to perceive and treat young people who offend in negative, stigmatising, marginalising and exclusionary ways (Case and Haines 2009).

The risk-based juvenile justice animated by the RFPP may be (cost) effective in its practicality, pragmatism and common-sense methods, but it is not effective in reducing offending or re-offending, nor is it positive, principled or progressive in ways that young people and the practitioners who work with them can support and engage with.

The positive progression to Children First positive youth justice
As long-standing, vociferous critics of the RFPP and long-term researchers with the young people and practitioners who work together within juvenile justice systems, we have constructed a positive, progressive, principled and pragmatic alternative to the damaging dominance of risk-based juvenile justice. Our model ofpositive youth justice is entitled Children First, Offenders Second (Haines and Case 2015). Despite our use of the term ‘youth’ in the preface to our model (it is preferred to ‘juvenile’ in the UK justice context), we strongly advocate for the terms ‘child’ and ‘children’ over ‘youth’ and ‘young people’. This is in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 designation of a child as anyone under the age of 18 years old (fitting with the 10-17 years old age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales) and its requirements for adults to offer children protection, provision and participation in accordance with their status as a ‘child’ (Haines and Case 2015).

Children First, Offenders Second (CFOS) sets out a series of evidence-based principles for positive youth justice practice. CFOS argues that the treatment of children who come into contact with juvenile justice systems and the practitioners within them should be child-friendly and child-appropriate, rather than dominated by adults deciding how to understand and respond to the diagnosed problems in children’s lives. Central to this child-friendly treatment is our advocacy of diversion from the negative, labelling and risk-obsessed, punitive excesses of formal juvenile justice systems and towards positive interventions and services that promote children’s well-being, rights, capacities, strengths and successes. Child-friendly, diversionary policy and practice is enhanced, we argue, by promoting the inclusion, participation and engagement of children in formal decisions regarding their lives, such as how their behaviour can be best understood and responded to. Similarly, we assert that juvenile justice practitioners should receive the same courtesy in formal decision-making processes, rather than having their practice heavily prescribed and controlled (some would say ‘mechanised’) by rigid instructions from central government bodies.

With this is mind, if juvenile justice practice is to be effective and sustainable, it must be underpinned by data and understandings generated through evidence-based partnership between children, families, practitioners, policy-makers and researchers, as opposed to being the product of the current governmental ‘fetish’ – typically for Americanised, pseudo-scientific, psychological treatment programmes. Crucially, these CFOSprinciples come together to promote positive ways of working that children can view as legitimate (fair, moral, justified), thus enhancing the potential to prevent offending and to promote positive behaviours and outcomes. A final, essential element of CFOS is the responsibilisation of adults (making them primarily responsible) for ensuring that children are supported and enabled to access their rights and supportive, promotional services and interventions that will improve their lives.

In stark contrast to risk-based juvenile justice, CFOS seeks to promote, not to correct; to responsibilise adults, not responsibilise children; to divert into child-appropriate intervention, not to interfere and stigmatise. CFOStreats offending behaviour as a developmental aspect of children’s lives (it normalises offending) and thus treats children as children, not as offenders. The model offers practitioners a set of principles and a reason to come to work; it offers children who come into conflict with juvenile justice systems opportunity, participation and positive engagements to enhance the quality of their lives.

This blog was authored by Professor Kevin Haines and Dr Stephen Case and was originally posted on the Discover Society website.  The original post can be viewed here.

References:
Case, S.P. and Haines, K.R. (2015) Children First, Offenders Second: The centrality of engagement in positive youth justice. The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice.
Case, S.P. and Haines, K.R. (2009) Understanding Youth Offending: Risk Factor Research, Policy and Practice.Cullompton: Willan.
Haines, K.R. and Case, S.P. (2015) Positive Youth Justice: Children First, Offenders Second. Bristol: Policy Press.
Haines, K.R. and Case, S.P. (2012) Is the Scaled Approach a Failed Approach? Youth Justice, 12 (3): 212-228.
Muncie, J. (2008) The ’punitive’ turn in juvenile justice: Cultures of control and rights compliance in Western Europe and the USA. Youth Justice, 8(2), pp. 107–121.

May 7th, 2015

Posted In: Youth Justice

Tags: , ,

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Childhood is a time of promise, of potential, of possibilities. Children are nascent, evolving, malleable individuals shaped by their experiences and their interactions. With the support and guidance of adults, children can become active citizens who have positive life experiences and positive contributions to make to society. They are, after all, the next generation. So with this in mind, why is it that when children break the law, we treat them so appallingly? Why does children’s offending behaviour, however trivial or fleeting, suddenly dictate that we label them as offenders, as dangerous, as imminent harms to themselves and to others – as a collection of risks that adults must manage through punishment and excessive intervention? Why do we assign children full responsibility for their actions when they offend, yet many of those same children are not given the responsibility to vote, to have sex, to drive a car, to drink, to smoke, to buy a house? Offending behaviour seems to catalyse a series of contradictions in our perceptions and treatment of children, exemplified by this sudden onset of responsibility for their actions. The most striking contradiction is how our views of children shift almost immediately from positive, optimistic and nurturing to negative, pessimistic and controlling should they break the law or present as if they might break the law in the future (Case and Haines 2009).

Out with the new, in with the old

Out goes the potential for citizenship and in comes the potential for harm, measured ‘scientifically’ through a restrictive and retrospective risk assessment and intervention framework known as the ‘Scaled Approach’. Out goes viewing children as bundles of dynamic possibilities and in comes viewing children as bundles of deficits and flaws. Out goes looking forwards positively at what children might become and in comes looking backwards negatively at what children might destroy. Out goes putting children first and in comes dealing with offenders first (Haines and Case 2015). Helpless and needy children become feckless and risky ‘little adults’ in the blink of an eye. The Youth Justice System has developed an unhealthy obsession with prevention – with stopping, controlling, managing and reducing negative behaviours, negative outcomes and negative possibilities (risks) of future negative behaviours and outcomes! The inevitable results are negative perceptions of children and an irresistible impetus for adults to intervene fast, hard and frequently to prevent and correct these negatives. The dangers of this prevention-obsessed approach are very real – the exclusion, marginalisation, stigmatisation and further criminalisation of children. When did we stop treating children as children?

Children first positive promotion in the Youth Justice System

What is needed is a children first approach to delivering youth justice that treats offending as a small and normal part of a much broader childhood identity (Haines and Case 2015). We must stop trying to prevent, target and correct the negatives in ‘flawed’ children and instead prioritise the promotion of positive behaviours and positive outcomes for all children, including those who become embroiled in the Youth Justice System (Haines and Case 2015; Case and Haines 2015a). This includes diverting children from the Youth Justice System in the first place! We must prioritise children’s rights and entitlements to universal supports, services, guidance and opportunities. We must prioritise children’s engagement, participation and inclusion in youth justice processes and those outside of the system (Case and Haines 2015b). We must prioritise the engagement of key adults such as youth justice staff, parents and teachers in facilitating these rights and entitlements. The treatment of children who offend must be legitimate (moral, fair, justified) and focused on children’s best interests. A principled and progressive Youth Justice System is one that prioritises positive promotion over negative prevention.

References

Case, S.P. and Haines, K. R. (2015a) Children First, Offenders Second Positive Promotion: Reframing the Prevention Debate. Youth Justice Journal.
http://yjj.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/12/12/1473225414563154.full.pdf+html

Case, S.P. and Haines, K.R. (2015b) Children First, Offenders Second: The centrality of engagement in positive youth justice. The Howard Journal of Criminal Justice.
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/enhanced/doi/10.1111/hojo.12099/

Case, S.P. and Haines, K.R. (2009) Understanding youth offending: Risk factor research policy and practice. Cullompton: Willan.

Haines, K.R. and Case, S.P. (in press) Positive Youth Justice: Children First, Offenders Second. Bristol: Policy Press.
http://www.policypress.co.uk/display.asp?K=9781447321712&sf1=keyword&st1=haines&m=1&dc=4

This blog was authored by Professor Kevin Haines and Dr Stephen Case and was originally posted on the NoOffence website.  The original post can be viewed here.

March 16th, 2015

Posted In: Youth Justice

Tags: , , ,


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