‘Child first’ approach to youth justice

Urgent action is required to ensure the safety and wellbeing of children who are in custody, with a greater focus on prevention efforts in the community. 

In a joint policy position paper, the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, Association of YOT Managers and the LGA call for a more localised, responsive and child-centred system to protect vulnerable youngsters.

Children in care, from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, and with special educational needs are increasingly overrepresented in the system, while regulation, frameworks and guidance for youth justice services continue to focus heavily on risk and offences rather than children’s needs and outcomes.

The position paper identifies a series of  ‘quick wins’ to improve children’s experiences and outcomes, including better information sharing between police and local authorities, changes to court arrangements, and a review of the age of criminal responsibility (at age 10, the UK’s is the lowest in Europe).

Long-term asks include adopting a public health approach to youth justice and childhood vulnerability.

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the LGA’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Councils are determined to do all they can to protect young people and keep them safe but their efforts are being seriously hampered by a lack of clarity surrounding funding, policies and strategy for young people in the justice system. 

“If we are to incorporate a ‘child first approach’, as advocated by the Youth Justice Board, there needs to be significant changes in the existing system. 

“It is essential to build on the good work of councils in preventing children from coming into the justice system, but the recent failures in the secure estate and the experience of young people during the pandemic show how the system is letting some young people down.”

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