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SIGNIFICANT THREAT: More youngsters carrying knives

SIGNIFICANT THREAT: More youngsters carrying knives

The South Tees Youth Offending Service supervises ten to 18 year olds in Middlesbrough and Redcar and Cleveland who have been sentenced by a court or have come to the attention of the police

An organisation which aims to steer young people away from a life of crime says there is evidence more youngsters are carrying knives and posing a “significant threat” to themselves and others.

South Tees Youth Offending Service (STYOS) supervises ten to 18 year olds in Middlesbrough and Redcar and Cleveland who have been sentenced by a court or have come to the attention of the police without being charged.

Its youth justice plan for 2021/22 outlined several priorities including ensuring an effective response with young people at risk of serious violent crime and exploitation.

The plan said: “Serious youth violence, knife crime, county lines [drug dealing] and exploitation are the biggest challenges we face in our work, in particular with the most vulnerable young people we work with.

“There is evidence to suggest that more young people are carrying knives and other sharp/bladed articles and these young people pose a significant threat to themselves and to others.

“Violence against the person and criminal damage continue to be the most common types of offending by young people and we are also seeing increases in robbery and sexual offending, all of which indicate a greater propensity by young people towards types of behaviour which include violence.

“During 2021/22 we will be further developing our response to these types of behaviours.”

The statutory body, which draws on support from Middlesbrough Council, Redcar and Cleveland Council, Cleveland Police, the National Probation Service and the Tees Valley Clinical Commissioning Group, aims to reduce first-time entrants into the youth justice system, prevent re-offending and reduce the use of custody for young people.

It said re-offending “continued to be a challenge”, although the group of young people which fell into this category who were being tracked and monitored by the organisation was the smallest ever.

This consisted of 24 young people – 18 from Middlesbrough and six from Redcar and Cleveland – in 2020/21 – a figure which had subsequently fallen to 12.

The annual plan, recently shared with members of Redcar and Cleveland Council’s children and families scrutiny committee, said: “The 12 young people who re-offended were responsible for committing 39 further offences.

“The size of the cohort is a significant factor and this has reduced over recent years.

“This will create pressures as it will only take a small number of young people to re-offend to impact on performance in this area.”

STYOS said it had intervened with 298 young people over the last 12 months,  262 of which were male and 36 female.

And it revealed that the age of offenders was getting younger with the peak age of offending changing from 17 years old to 15 years old.

It carried out “prevention intervention” with two eight year-olds in the past year, the plan revealed.

Meanwhile, during 2020/21 there were 40 first time entrants into the local youth justice system, a reduction from 52 for the previous year, a continuing  downward trend.

This was 50% lower than the figure for 2017/18 which involved 86 young people.

STYOS suggested there had been greater use of so-called out of court disposals – a method of resolving an investigation when the offender is known and admits the offence.

These are intended to reduce re-offending by enabling restorative and reparative justice, which aim to reconcile the needs of victims and offenders and typically involves meetings between the two.

STYOS said: “Engaging and supporting victims are important areas of the work of STYOS.

“The voice of the victim needs to be explicit in our work with young people and young people need to be engaged in activities which challenge their offending and increases their understanding of the impact of their behaviours on others and the community.

“During 2021/22 we hope to build on our work delivering mediation and conferencing between victims and young people and look to offer more opportunities for victims to be meaningfully involved in our work.”

It added: “There is a culture of working together among the youth offending services in the Tees Valley and STYOS has worked closely with colleagues in Hartlepool and Stockton youth offending service[s], Cleveland Police and the Police and Crime Commissioner [PCC] to develop an enhanced model for out of court disposals ensuring that young people are kept out of the court system where this appropriate, promoting prevention and early intervention.

“These arrangements now include offering young people the opportunity to engage in more options before cautions and youth conditional cautions need to be considered.”

The plan said that there were only four instances where a young person was sent to custody by the youth courts in the South Tees area in 2020/21 from 107 court disposals.

As with first-time entrants the trend was a declining one and 80% lower than the figure for 2017/18 when 22 young people received custodial sentences from 239 court disposals.

STYOS said it had developed a service delivery model enabling staff to intervene early and “ensure positive outcomes” for young people at risk of offending and their families.

It said: “This has been established to enable [us] to reach out to partners in education, police, children’s services and community safety to offer youth offending service expertise to engage with those young people identified as being at risk of offending.”

The organisation, which said that nine of out ten young people it worked with rated the service they had received as ‘good’, highlighted some of the factors in further offending, one of which it said was care history.

It said: “STYOS recognises that there is an increasing number of young people entering the criminal justice system who are also in local authority care.”

The covid-19 pandemic remained a challenge to how it delivered services and new ways of working and engaging with young people and partners, such as using virtual technology, now formed part of its working practices.

STYOS, which has 41 staff and also has seconded police officers and a probation officer on its books, also warned of funding pressures and said there had been “significant reductions” in its budget in recent years which had implications for how it went about its work.

Its £1.5m budget for 2021/22 is majority funded by the Youth Justice Board, which is providing a grant allowance of £884,660, while other funding comes from Middlesbrough and Redcar and Cleveland Council and the likes of the PCC.

It said: “It should be noted that despite reductions in our budget STYOS has been able to maintain service levels, offer new services with regards to prevention and diversion, sustain continuous improvements in our performance, achieving positive outcomes for the young people we work with.

“This has been achieved despite serving communities who experience significant levels of deprivation and with young people who demonstrate increasingly complex needs.”

Its plan for 2021/22 said: “The overriding priority for South Tees Youth Offending Service, in line with that of the Youth Justice Board, is to view all young people that we work with as a child first and seek to ensure that they are engaged and supported to achieve positive outcomes.

“All our work will be informed by the voice of the child and we will seek to work proactively with those young people who experience significant vulnerabilities including children in local authority care and those young people at risk of forms of exploitation.”

In his foreword, Rob Brown, director of education and partnerships at Middlesbrough Council and chairman of the STYOS executive board, said: “The priorities set out in this plan show a strong desire to achieve positive outcomes for our young people and victims of youth crime.

“A key area of development this year will be around prevention and diversion, along with strengthening the response to young people involved in the most serious types of crime.

“The service delivery model will also be reviewed to ensure it is fit for purpose to enable the services to meet challenges as we move forward.”

Case study – ‘Harvey’

Harvey is undertaking a nine month referral order for assaulting an emergency worker and criminal damage.

Harvey has made good progress on his referral order, engaging in phone and video contacts with youth offending service staff and with the interventions offered.

Progress has been such that following the recommendation of the review panel, an application for early revocation of Harvey’s order due to his completion of all work required has been submitted to court.

With lockdown restrictions eased, face-to-face visits have been beneficial to support him.

He has maintained contact throughout his order and he has made phone calls to ask and seek advice on his emotional wellbeing and letting staff know the outcome of significant events in his life such as passing his driving theory test, which he’s very proud of.

His parents have been very pleased with the level of work, support and advice that staff have given them and Harvey during the order.

Harvey is currently in employment and is currently taking driving lessons, which he is very excited about.

Despite the offences that brought Harvey to our service, he has been positive and engaging throughout his order and maintained an interest in joining the fire service in the future.


Words: Stuart Arnold, Local Democracy Reporter

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