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Wales: Trauma and ACE informed assessments

The Cwm Taf Youth Offending Service has embedded a Trauma and ACEs informed approach to working with children. It has an established prevention team that receives referrals from a number of agencies and services, including self referrals, for children aged 8-17 years. They take a developmental and relationship-based approach, responding to the needs of each individual child and family.

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The challenge

The YOS team wanted to move towards preventative services; to move from responding to incidents to a child-centred approach that sought out opportunities to engage with children on the fringes of Justice Services. This has been in place since 2008. Families First, Team Around the Family and the Resilient Families Services all offer time limited support, however there was a group of families where this wasn’t enough. Children from these families often reached the Youth Offending Service, but after travelling through a number of services and often arriving with complex trauma.

In addition, different agencies were taking different approaches to referrals to their team which meant children were not being referred to their services. Neighbourhood Policing Teams (NPT) differ in their practice, and in some cases children were receiving duplicate referrals both through Children’s Social Care and Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub and directly through the YOS. They were facing a waiting list for CAMHS services and a shortage of safe placement for some children.

Historically, Enhanced Case Management (ECM) was used for children with a prolific offending history and a current statutory order in place.  This means that a child must already have received a sanction from a court, and that their offending behaviour is established. The YOS team wanted to avoid criminalisation by expanding its offer of early and preventive intensive support for children at high risk of criminalisation. 

Being involved in the Enhanced Case Management (ECM) Evaluation brought skills and experience of using a trauma-informed approach to their work. Working in this way YOS realised the scale of need in their area. The wide role out of the Trauma recovery model in South Wales gave all agencies and services a framework, model and language to underpin their interactions. 

The approach

The Cwm Taf Youth Offending Service has embedded a Trauma and ACEs (TrACE) informed approach to working with children. It has an established prevention team that receives referrals from a number of agencies and services, including self referrals, for children aged 8-17 years.  They encourage referrals for any child identified where there is a risk their behaviour might be judged as antisocial or later offending.  They take a developmental and relationship-based approach, responding to the needs of each individual child and family.  So while their offer is not differentiated by chronological age, they respond to the development needs of the child and to their family context.  Underpinning the practice is the Trauma Recovery Model (TRM) (Skuse and Matthew, 2015), as well as the Good Lives Model and Desistance Theory for the assessment.

For cases of antisocial behaviour where the police have been involved, or for families that need more intensive intervention, the team conducts an assessment that considers 1) risk of reoffending, 2) risk of serious harm to others, and 3) the child’s safety and wellbeing. This assessment includes a record of all Common Assessment Framework (CAF) domains, and prompts to consider Adverse Childhood Events (ACE) and Additional Learning Needs (ALN).  This assessment informs multi-agency planning, ensuring services put in place respond not only to problematic behaviours, but also to any history of trauma or ACE, and to their developmental and learning needs.

This model is not age specific in that is used for all children, but the age of the child is important in determining their needs.  An important part of the assessment process in drawing a timeline for each child and mapping their transitions.

Each child is allocated to a case manager. Cases and recommendations are reviewed regularly, using child and family goal setting.  The aim is to plan for a return to universal services which will provide long term support, for example linking to Youth Engagement and Participation workers based in schools.

Local implementation

In order to embed the trauma informed method of working, Cwm Taf youth offending service suggest the following elements are necessary:

  1. ACEs awareness
  2. TrACE (Trauma and ACE) practice training
  3. Training of key team champions
  4. Enhanced Case Management training
  5. Adoption of the process – within the YOT and other agencies and services
  6. Management buy-in to work this way

These have been assisted by having all the agencies around the table. They have police officers seconded to the YOS, along with a seconded substance use worker, health visitor and a Speech and Language Therapist. They are currently without a seconded CAMHS worker, but hope this post will be filled soon.  Other posts are not formally seconded, but agencies allow their staff to work in close collaboration while also being an asset in their substantive posts where they can progress cases as needed. They have a connected Educational Psychologist and are seeking a seconded Psychologist role. This points to both the strength and challenges of their working model; by meeting regularly and collaboratively multiagency work has been successful but having the right people in post and the resources secured is a challenge. Ongoing management buy-in is needed to achieve this. The YOS offer has evolved to incorporate the Youth Restorative Disposal (known as the Street disposal). 

They have found the trauma informed work has changed how they work with families, and they have had success engaging with many families. However, some families refuse interventions, even where this is an Out of Court Disposal or a Youth Caution Disposal. 

The early assessment and close work of the YOS often highlights risks for the child that may lead to further risk of ASB or offending in years to come such as poor school attachment and children’s services involvement. The YOS team have also found that at the end of the voluntary intervention over the 3 month period, children are asking for longer term support. This has been true even when they have successfully reached children and families who have been resistant to intervention prior to this.

Evidence of impact

The ECM approach has been evaluated using routine monitoring data alongside qualitative research with children, families and professionals. The evaluation found mixed evidence for impact on offending, with 9 out of 21 not reoffending, 7 committing an offence of the same or lesser seriousness, and 4 committing an offence of greater seriousness.  It is not possible to judge whether ECM had a positive impact on offending on the basis of these limited data.

The TrACE approach with assessment being used by the Cwm Taf Youth Offending Service has not been evaluated in the prevention arena. They report that first-time entrants to the youth justice system have reduced dramatically in the last 10 years, and that some children are successfully diverted to universal provision for effective engagement in school, leisure activities etc. However, there is a cohort of children which continues to be at risk or involved in offending and who often have complex trauma, or behaviours that might indicate specific mental health disorders or neurodiversity.

YOS manager

Children are often presenting with very angry behaviours, criminal damage, antisocial behaviour, assaults on parents, what we tend to do is to peel back the layers…and we often find they belong in the safety and wellbeing environment, not in the YOS environment

YOS practitioner

You aren’t treating children like mini-offenders

13 year old referred service

YOS was not as bad as I thought it would be…I would like to thank the YOS for helping me stay out of trouble.

Contact details:

Youth Offending Service

Project website

[email protected]