West Berkshire: Focusing on education and positive activity to support children in the youth justice system

West Berkshire has been using a focus on engagement in positive activities, education, training and employment to prevent reoffending and improve outcomes for children working with the Youth Offending Team.

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The challenge

More than three-quarters of children who receive a custodial sentence have been identified as having a special educational need (SEN) at some point during their schooling and over 80 per cent have faced school exclusion. Additionally, according to the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists, over 60 per cent of children in justice settings have speech, language and communication needs.

In West Berkshire, of the cohort of children receiving community resolutions and preventative criminal justice work, 44 per cent were identified as having a special educational need and 77 per cent had been excluded from school at some point, rising to 88 per cent for those children attending court. 25 per cent of the court cohort in West Berkshire had identified speech, language and communication needs.

West Berkshire Youth Offending Team (YOT) were supporting a child (S) from the Gypsy, Roma, Traveller community who, at the age of 15, had not been engaged in education since primary school. S had a part time job of a few hours a week but wanted to re-engage in education. She expressed a desire to enrol in college but had not attended any formal education since the age of 11 and had no qualifications.

The solution

The Youth Offending Team (YOT) in West Berkshire employs an Apprentice Youth Justice Worker (AYJW) whose specific focus is on supporting children working with the YOT to engage in positive activities, education, training or employment.

The child (S) had no formal diagnosis of additional educational needs, however given the lengthy period she had spent out of education, her YOT officer referred her to the team’s AYJW to identify what support she might need.

The AYJW initially meets with children alongside their YOT worker to build a rapport and understand what they might like to get from the support, before planning an intervention with them that fits their circumstances and is tailored to their needs.

S’s YOT officer had also identified that, given her long absence from education it would be beneficial for her to have a speech and language assessment so that any future education plans could take into account her current communication needs and support could be arranged accordingly.

A speech and language therapist met with S and conducted a formal assessment. It was identified that her speech was at the expected level, she had no difficulties in articulating or understanding complex language, however she was experiencing a moderate delay in her written sentence construction and reading. The child confirmed with the speech and language therapist that she had difficulties reading and writing.

With this knowledge, the AYJW sought the child’s consent to arrange a one-to-one meeting with the support team at the college that S wished to attend. She also sought her consent to share the speech and language assessment with them in order that a plan could be put in place to support S in reaching her goal to enrol in college. S attended this meeting alongside the AYJW. The college staff were impressed with S’s commitment and enthusiasm and agreed to enrol her. The AYJW then supported S to discuss with the college what support she would need from them if she was to attend.

The college agreed to arrange some ‘taster sessions’ before her formal course began so that she could get used to being in an educational setting again. These taster sessions would involve S attending normal college classes for the course she wished to study and working alongside existing students to get a feel for what a day at college would be like. They would also give S some time to adjust to the daily routines that she would need to implement such as waking up earlier, getting to college and managing her timetable. 

The AYJW had follow-up conversations with the college to arrange the provision of additional support such as providing a ‘reader’ for S, the option to record lessons and extra support with written assignments. She also discussed welfare support and access to bursaries for the equipment that S would need for her course. The AYJW’s background in further education ensured that she knew what provision could be made available and was able to advocate for this for S.

The AYJW had also previously attended training facilitated by the West Berkshire YOT team’s Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Champion. This training gave the AYJW additional strategies to effectively support children from the Gypsy Roma and Traveller (GRT) community and helped her to ensure that her intervention was further tailored to meet S’s needs. The GRT champion remained available throughout for consultation and further support.

The AYJW has also found innovative ways to support S to gain practical benefits from her current part time work by using it to gain qualifications. As part of her support, the AYJW will complete observations of S in the workplace to enable her to gain a certification in customer service.

The impact

S has achieved her place at college and is currently attending taster days in preparation for the start of her course in September. She also now has a certification, having been supported to formalise the skills gained in her part time work, giving her a certification in customer service.

The West Berkshire apprentice youth justice worker has thus far supported six children to complete the college application process and secure interviews. All six have been successfully accepted into college.

The AYJW also focuses on confidence building and enabling children to better promote themselves in the world of work, for example by working through lists of skills and qualities and supporting them to identify when they have demonstrated these in the past, leaving them with a bank of practical examples to use in interviews long after the YOT intervention has ended. The AYJW’s role in building children’s confidence and getting them ‘work ready’ is crucial.

Figure one: Diagram illustrating a hypothetical journey of a young person accessing services in West Berkshire.

A full description of the diagram in figure one can be found in the 'Figure one: Image description' section.

Diagram illustrating a hypothetical journey of a young person accessing services in West Berkshire. A full description can be found in the section Figure one: Image description.



Figure one: Image description


How the approach being sustained

West Berkshire have found that having a staff member whose specific role is to support children to engage in positive activities has increased their success in this area and allowed YOT officers to focus on their programme of work related to offending.

The AYJW has also worked to enable other staff to engage children in positive activities, for example by compiling a database of local positive activities which can be accessed by the cohort of children working with the YOT.

Lessons learned

The support of the AYJW is time-limited alongside the length of the intervention with the YOT. The AYJW therefore works hard to prioritise with the child and support them to quickly build a bank of skills that will benefit them later on, such as interview practice and learning how to provide examples of their qualities in work or education applications.

The importance of differentiating support for children has also become clear. Some children enter the service with no prior knowledge of what a CV is and how to build one, others are unable to name their talents and skills and a large number may need support to find strategies to navigate reading and writing in education or work settings. The AYJW makes no assumptions and clearly communicates this with the child at the beginning of each intervention so that they feel comfortable to disclose things such as poor literacy and the support can then be tailored accordingly.