Youth Offending


Introduction to Social Work. David Gower and Jackie Plenty. S134487

The area I have chosen to discuss is Youth Offending and intend to look at options that will help prevent re-offending and how we, as Social Workers, work as part of a team within Youth Offending. I intend to look at what areas of society are more likely to offend or re-offend.

A young offender is defined as someone under 18 years of age who has committed an offence. The legal age of ‘criminal responsibility’ in England and Wales, is ten years old, therefore anyone under the age of 10 cannot be held responsible for their actions.

Anyone aged between 10 and 14 years old is presumed to understand the difference between right and wrong, so they can be convicted of a criminal offence if found guilty.

Teenagers between 14 and 17 years old are fully responsible for any crimes they commit, but they are sentenced differently in relation to adults. Young offenders are assessed by the (1) Youth Justice System (YJS). There are a number of risk factors which may make a young person more likely to become involved in committing crime or anti-social behaviour. Whilst not exhaustive these include a lack of education, poor family relationships, having family members or peers who have offended, and misuse of substances. The YJS aim to tackle these problems (

According to the Children Act 1989, the child’s welfare shall be the court’s paramount consideration. Therefore why do we lock so many children up, but allow terrorist to walk free under a control order? (Part 1 Welfare of the child)

In the United Kingdom we lock up more children than any other country in Europe. 90% of young offenders put in prison will reoffend within two years of release. The UK’s (2) Youth Justice Board spends 70% of its budget on custody, 5% on preventive methods; leaving just 25% for restorative and other methods. The age of criminal responsibility in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is 10 years old. In Scotland it’s eight.

‘Interviews with young offenders revealed litanies of jailed mothers, abuse at home, street living, and failed foster care. Almost all such children are excluded from school, and other attempts to divert them are laughable: youth clubs with “a pool table, one TV and one PlayStation to fight over”. ‘

(radio-youth justice) 

The Crime and Disorder Act was legislated in 1998 for the first time. Working together as part of the new Multi-agency (3) Youth Offending Team under section 39(5) a Youth Offending Team (YOT) would now consist of a Social worker, a police officer, a probation officer, a nominated person from the education department & a nominated person from the health authority. Working as part of a YOT involves being a member of possibly the most diverse and wide ranging multi-agency team within Social Care.

Under the (4)GSCC code of practice Social workers have 6 standards (5)that need to be maintained within Social Care settings ensuring that you can build up a relationship with your client and their carers, whilst using this we also need to take into account the National Occupational Standards and use these to provide a benchmark within our practice. Within Youth Justice the National Standards are set by the Home Secretary and issued by the YJB. The Standards provide a benchmark to measure good practice whilst working with children and young people who offend, as well as their families and victims.

‘Social work has little to contribute and little wish to contribute to the effectiveness of prisons if one takes the view that their primary purpose is to punish and humiliate their inmates. If, on the other hand, prisoners are there as a punishment, not for additional punishment, Social Work has an important role, prison based Social Workers can play a vital part in helping prisoners maintain contact with communities, preparing them for constructive activities after their release, and providing opportunities for reflection on their offending and planning for a better life. Social Work is based upon a belief in dignity and worth of all human beings, and in individual’s ability to change’. (Williams cited in)

The role of social work may be more effective if partnered with a service user using a Care & Control system, thus avoiding more custodial sentences. The service user would be well aware they had narrowly avoided a custodial sentence and would be guided by the Social Worker if they do not conform to the agreement that they could end up back in court and eventually back to Prison. Having a basic understanding of the Human Development as well as a good knowledge of Social Work Codes of Practice will help us to understand the service users’ role within society. We need to help empower the service user into making the right decision for them, by giving them the means and help to do it. By treating them with dignity and respect at a level they can understand without them feeling inferior or pressurised to make a decision by the Social Worker. Within this we can offer help with past problems they have suffered using (6)S.W.O.T. analysis, counselling, curfews, boundaries, mentoring, restorative work, talking to parents and working with multiple agencies to ensure the service user gets the service and support they need. Helping the service user to promote positive change and help reduce risk.

A service user is a term used to emphasis a professional relationship. Service user involvement is putting the people who use our services in control of the lives offering support they may need, to help them overcome their issues and empowering them to lead more fulfilling lives.

The anti-social behaviour orders were introduced by Tony Blair in 1998 and by 2005 55 per cent were being breached (cited in article-1228445 Daily Mail) is this because the courts and the police are making the (7)ASBO’s unrealistic , Setting out for the Young person to fail and break the order, so they can then go back to court to get the young person of the streets. Working as professionals within the Multiagency setting of YOT we should be looking for opportunities to empower the young person into meeting realistic targets and not setting ASBO’s which we know they will be unable to comply with for various reasons. Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) State Parties recognise the right of every child alleged as, accused of, or recognised as having infringed the penal law to be treated in a manner consistent with the promotion of the child’s sense of dignity and self worth.(Youth Justice and Social Work )

Piaget distinguished three stages in children’s awareness to rules by playing  games, 1st ages up to 4-5, rules not really understood,2nd stage 4-5 up to 9-10, rules were seen to be coming for a higher authority (e.g. adults, god, town council) 3rd stage 9-10 onwards rules could be mutually changed by others. (cited Understanding children’s development)

Many young people who become involved in violence and crime have experienced this type of behaviour from a parent or a peer, if they have learnt that this is the accepted way of dealing with a problem and have seen or experienced this kind of abuse they may have little self esteem and perceive this to be the correct way of dealing with an issue.

As discussed by Paiget about children learning and understanding rules, if a child is taught the wrong moral standings by an adult in stage 2, it could lead to them following the wrong path in life. Using this theory we can benchmark where a child should be.

There was a drop in the number of children entering the justice system for the first time in 2007/08. Numbers of ‘first time entrants’ aged 10 to 17 entering the Youth Justice System in England and Wales were around 87,400, a fall of about 7 per cent on the previous year. Slightly more than 2,700 of children in this age group were in custody in England and Wales in December 2008, including around 500 children aged 15 and under. The majority of young offenders in custody were boys (94 per cent). More than four-fifths (86 per cent) of young offenders were held in Young Offenders Institutions, 8 per cent were in Secure Training Centres and 6 per cent were in Secure Children’s Homes.

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Around 51,000 children aged 10 to 17 were found guilty of indictable offences in 2007 and a further 75,000 were cautioned. Of those found guilty of an indictable offence, more than a third (36 per cent) were found guilty of theft and handling stolen goods and around 14 per cent were found guilty of violence against the person. Boys aged 15 to 17 accounted for 69 per cent of all children found guilty of indictable offences in 2007 including theft and handling stolen goods (11,200 offenders), violence against the person (5,500 offenders), drug offences (4,600 offenders) and burglary (4,500 offenders).

(Source: Home Office, Ministry of Justice, Youth Justice Board )

In Order to help prevent this from happening the government launched a program called Youth Inclusion program (8)(YIP) which was established in 2000, and tailor-made programmes for 8 to 17-year-olds, who are identified as being at high risk of involvement in offending or anti-social behaviour. Whilst the programs are run for the identified children, YIPs are also open to other young people in the local area. The programme operates in110 of the most deprived/high crime estates in England and Wales.

YIPs aim to reduce youth crime and anti-social behaviour in neighbourhoods where they work. Young people on the YIP are identified through a number of different agencies including teams (YOTs), police, social services, local education authorities or schools, and other local agencies. YIP receives a grant each year from the Youth Justice Board annually via its Youth Offending Team and is required to find the same amount of funding via Local Agencies.

(Cited YJB/Prevention YIPS)

Working in genuine partnership with other agencies and being able to access more information will enable the social worker to assess the service users needs quicker and have a detailed history of the client, which will help everyone involved within the multiagency partnership. Most referrals will come via a common assessment form (9) CAF which is used to highlight the areas each individual agency feels the service user is at risk and working within the comprehensive framework for assessment.

An independent national evaluation of the first three years of YIPs found that:

  • arrest rates for the 50 young people considered to be most at risk of crime in each YIP had been reduced by 65%
  • of those who had offended before joining the programme, 73% were arrested for fewer offences after engaging with a YIP
  • of those who had not offended previously but who were at risk, 74% did not go on to be arrested after engaging with a YIP.

(Cited YJB/Prevention YIPS)

Even though these results prove YIP to be an effective project it struggles for the necessary funding. If YIP had more readily available funding there would be more opportunity to intervene early with the affected children.  Earlier invention would help to refocus the energies of children. This could mean that eventually that we can have early intervention programmes running in all areas where children are more at risk and this could potentially prevent my children becoming involved in crime.

‘The evidence shows that intervening early with the most challenging families in this country works.’ Ed Balls MP, Children’s Secretary (cited Children & Young People Now)

The conflict between Social work ethics and the legal systems is arguably more distinct in the practice of youth justice than any area within the Social work field. Positive, constructive achievement through social work intervention for a young person will encourage the young person to take responsibility for their actions and empower them to reflect their options whilst making decisions. For a young person, age discrimination and labeling often occur, which could give the young person an attitude and make them feel quite defensive, paranoid sometimes.

I think Society possibly needs to change its way of thinking, our New Labour government has passed over 900 new laws since coming to power. This has had an effect on how we view children and young people, 20 years ago we had 339 children in prison, today we have over 3000, does this mean that children have become 10 times more dangerous?. I don’t believe that children and young people have really changed as much as statistics say, I believe it is because we have too many laws and because some people live in such a dysfunctional manner, that they prefer to be in prison as they are warm, safe, can get qualifications, they have friends and they get 3 meals day and it is a routine for them, whereas living within a family that is dysfunctional could mean living with violence, drug or alcohol abuse and not having their basic needs met on a regular basis. Everything that happens within a service user’s life is logical to them.

A positivist believes that crime is not chosen but caused largely by factors beyond the offender’s control. In essence, the belief is that offenders simply can’t help themselves, certain genetic, psychological or environmental factors have influenced their behavior and the existence of these factors means that offenders are almost pre-programmed to become criminals. This is one of the great contradictions of the positivist approach to crime is its focus on reformation and rehabilitation. (Taylor et. Al. (1973) cited in Youth Justice and Social Work


  1. YJS- Youth Justice System
  2. YJB – Youth Justice Board
  3. YOT- Youth Offending Team
  4. GSCC – General Social Care Council
  5. GSCC-  6 Standards
  6. S.W.O.T – Strength, Weakness, Opportunities & Threats.
  7. ASBO- Anti Social Behaviour  Order
  8. YIP- Youth Inclusion Program
  9. CAF- Common Assessment Form

General Social Care Council Standards: Code of practice.

  1. As a social care worker, you must protect the rights and promote the interests of service users and carers.
  2. As a social care worker, you must strive to establish and maintain the trust and confidence of service users and carers.
  3. As a social care worker, you must promote the independence of service users while protecting them as far as possible from danger or harm.
  4. As a social care worker, you must respect the rights of service users while seeking to ensure that their behaviour does not harm themselves or other people.
  5. As a social care worker, you must uphold public trust and confidence in social care services.
  6. As a social care worker, you must be accountable for the quality of your work and take responsibility for maintaining and improving your knowledge and skills.


  3. Oxford: Blackwell.
  4. Davies, M. (2000) The Blackwell Companion To Social Work,Oxford: Blackwell.
  6. Dugmore, P. and Pickford, J. (2006) Youth Justice and Social Work,Exeter: Learning Matters.
  7. Smith, P.K. and Cowie, H. (1996)  Understanding Children’s Development (2nd ed.),              Oxford: Blackwell. Page 198
  8. Source: Home Office, Ministry of Justice, Youth Justice Board
  10. Ed Balls quote (Children & Young People Now) 3-9.12.09
  11. Dugmore, P. and Pickford, J. (2006)              Youth Justice and Social Work,              Exeter: Learning Matters. Page 49 Taylor




Approximately 250 words