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Youth Justice Board Business plan 2021-2022

January 2021

Our vision: A Child First youth justice system

Our vision is of a youth justice system, where all services:

  1. Prioritise the best interests of children and recognising their particular needs, capacities, rights and potential. All work is child-focused, developmentally informed, acknowledges structural barriers and meets responsibilities towards children
  2. Promote children’s individual strengths and capacities to develop their pro-social identity for sustainable desistance, leading to safer communities and fewer victims. All work is constructive and future-focused, built on supportive relationships that empower children to fulfil their potential and make positive contributions to society
  3. Encourage children’s active participation, engagement and wider social inclusion. All work is a meaningful collaboration with children and their carers
  4. Promote a childhood removed from the justice system, using pre-emptive prevention, diversion and minimal intervention. All work minimises criminogenic stigma from contact with the system

In this vision we include some small but important amendments. These are to recognise explicitly the structural barriers that children face and the responsibility that we, as adults, have towards them. These were introduced in our Strategic Plan 2021-24.

Whilst ambitious, this vision is grounded in firm evidence. The youth justice system has had many successes over the years. Most notably there is the reductions in children entering the system and the numbers of children in custody. However, if we want to make further progress then system changes are necessary. This change cannot be delivered by us, or the youth justice system, alone. However, we will use our influence with others to help bring about the transformation needed. The benefits of achieving this vision are great, not just for children but for all of us. If children are enabled to reach their potential the benefit for society is obvious. This is not only through reductions in offending but through positive gain for all children. But this change will not happen overnight.

This approach is needed, perhaps now more than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenges for many children. This includes an increase in poverty, exploitation and violence at home, missed education and a negative impact upon their mental health. These are all factors outside of a child’s control, but which will inevitably increase the likelihood of them being drawn into the justice system. Society and government in England and Wales must take steps to prevent this happening. We have a responsibility towards children for doing so.

Child First is a journey for the YJB as much as it is for others across the sector. Evidence which has emerged over the years has challenged our previous thinking. Whilst we have embraced this in recent times, we know that we do not always get things right. We are still learning and building our understanding of the evidence and what this might mean for policy and practice. We are not alone on this journey and we are grateful to those to who have offered their mutual support.

We realise that the change we want will be years in the making. Meanwhile, we are committed to exploring with others how the evidence base might be applied within the existing youth justice system. Working with practitioners, policy makers and academics alike in doing so.

We know that we will not be able to complete this work in the coming business planning year, no matter how strong our desire. Work beginning this year will, without doubt, extend into subsequent years. This is a mark of our commitment.

In the coming year we will:

  1. Continue to embed Child First across the full span of our work from oversight to effective practice to advice to ministers. We will continue to support our staff in their individual and combined learning
  2. Continue to apply theory to practice and look at what the evidence suggests appropriate system reform might look like. We will work in collaboration with sector leaders to test and challenge our thinking and to inform our advice to decision makers
  3. Ensure clear and consistent messaging to the sector. We recognise that what we say should reflect the latest evidence and where it doesn’t, we aim to resolve this. We will begin to review publications, guidance and documents to ensure alignment and manage our current messaging
  4. Continue to engage and influence key stakeholders and decision makers in how best to prevent children offending and entering the youth justice system. Work done outside of the formal youth justice system to safeguard and ensure inclusion of children in decision making is vital and should be recognised as such
  5. Work with both E nglish and Welsh gover nment to support the development of policy and practice that treats children as children
  6. Ensure the voices of children and young adults with lived experience are heard and influence policy and practice development
  7. Develop an understanding of what work is undertaken around prevention and diversion through the Prevention and Diversion project jointly commissioned by National Probation Service (NPS), YJB and Associate of YOT managers (AYM); alongside developing an evidence-base that incorporates learning from a wide range of research in this area

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