ACP member Sarah Sutton attended an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) Penal Affairs and the APPG for Children, on behalf of the ACP, looking at the Review of the Youth Justice system, led by Charlie Taylor.
The interim report can be veiwed here and suggests a thoughtful approach, with education at its heart. The APPG meeting was a chance for parliamentarians and people with a particular interest to hear more about the review and to respond.
Charlie Taylor, former Chief Executive of the National College of Teaching & Leadership and former head of a challenging primary school spoke in a humane way about removing "the distinction between a welfare child and a justice child", instead seeing "a child in need of support", entitled to universal services. He spoke of Hillside secure children's home in Wales as an impressive place with rounded provision and community links. In running his own school, he has spoken of the need to "put something in the tank", recognising the deprivation behind much "offending" behaviour. He warned that unless the shift to an educational focus happens, the youth justice system as it stands can prepare children for life on the inside instead of life on the outside.
Gareth Jones, Association of Youth Offending Team (YOT) managers, reinforced this approach, reminding us of the horrendous lives children in the youth justice system have often led. He warned against putting the needs of the institution above the needs of the child. He talked about the devolution of funding, which might mean an accompanying shift of responsibility from the centre and wider social policy to local areas. He alerted the meeting to the impact of cuts on strategy and development: a further 12% cut this week, for example, means vacancies will simply not be filled, which he suggested is no way to implement any useful strategy. The upshot seemed to be that a balance between infrastructure and devolution was needed, perhaps YOT advocates and a strong central body.
A number of members of the House of Lords spoke with some warmth about the need for information-sharing; housing was particularly highlighted as a department with lots of local knowledge about troubled families. Lord Listowel, a member of the board of trustees at Brent Centre, quoted John Diamond of the Mulberry Bush School speaking of the need to hold children in mind, and underlining the importance of the individual worker in making a difference. There were calls for sentencing to be more flexible and dynamic, addressing the causes of the "offending" behaviour.
The meeting overall was heartening, and I came away feeling that youth justice was seen here more as justice for young people than done to them, and wondering about how links might be made between the early intervention lobby, eg. 1001 Critical Days manifesto and youth justice.