Trauma-informed work key to protecting the public

Trauma-informed work key to protecting the public

Do YOTs protect the public?

The public can be better protected from dangerous and violent young offenders if adults working with them are trained to understand the often extreme trauma in their childhoods.


That’s the headline finding from a new report published by HMI Probation today (26 October 2017): Addressing childhood trauma of young offenders and understanding social media use in crimes can reduce offending.

At first glance it seems slightly odd that an inspection report addresses two such distinct issues: trauma-informed desistance work and the use of social media. However, it transpires that the inspection was actually an examination of the work done by Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) with young people convicted of violent and other serious offences and that these were the two key issues which emerged.

Overall findings

Overall, inspectors found we found YOTs doing a good job with this group of serious offenders. They found that almost all the staff they interviewed in six different YOTs were competent and committed. YOTs were found to be using new assessment and planning materials effectively, although they could do more to incorporate the views of young people in their plans, and to develop robust intervention plans.

YOTs were also found to be working well to protect victims, if necessary by setting exclusion or curfew conditions, and taking enforcement action when needed to keep people safe.

Traumatic pasts

Inspectors examined the case files of 115 young people who had committed violent, sexual and/or other offences where there were potential public protection issues. Where information was available, they found that more than three in four had experienced emotional trauma or other deeply distressing or disturbing things in their lives.

Research tells us that these experiences will affect a young person’s current behaviour, making it more likely that they will offend and reducing their ability to work with adults trying to help them.

The spectrum of experiences was remarkably wide (and are described in an Appendix to the report) and included separation and estrangement from parents, the death of a parent or main carer, sexual abuse, severe physical chastisement, serial domestic abuse and parental substance misuse.

For some young people their experiences of trauma were both multiple and severe. Domestic abuse was prevalent: one-third had grown up in a household where there was a formal record of domestic abuse. Almost half of our sample were in local authority care, often placed some way from home.

Inspectors recommend that all YOTs should be able to identify and respond effectively to emotional trauma and other adverse events in young people’s lives, and apply the strategies available for tailoring services to take account of trauma. There is evidence, for example, that the young person’s relationship with the case manager is important and also that interventions should be kept as simple as possible.

Inspectors found YOT staff accounting for some of these issues in their work with young people, but doing so intuitively rather than within a clear policy or practice framework. We found that the models of youth justice intervention that respond to trauma have been implemented in only a handful of YOTs.

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