Supporting young victims of crime and anti-social behaviour
Mike Rees and Howard Wilson
In April 2015, North Somerset’s Youth Offending Service (YOS) opened a new provision for young victims of crime and anti-social behaviour across Avon and Somerset. Funded by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner (OPCC), the Young Victims’ Service represents a new way of delivering services in partnership with third sector agencies and the North Somerset Local Authority.
The Young Victims’ Service was set up and works on the basis that the Youth Offending Service (YOS) who oversees it has pre-existing knowledge of working with young people and understanding the interface between criminalisation and victimisation. The YOS also has significant and well-established partnership arrangements across Avon and Somerset to support the delivery of a new service. These assets have all been valuable to develop and launch the new Young Victims’ Service.
The Service opened on 1 April 2015 and employs 3.6 full-time equivalent professionally qualified and experienced staff across the Avon and Somerset Police area. The current team comprises two qualified Youth Workers, a Social Worker and a Teacher (formerly Head of Year at a large comprehensive school). This team is managed by the Restorative Justice and Supervision Manager, YOS, himself a former Youth Worker, and overseen by the Service Leader, YOS.
The Service works with young victims of crime and anti-social behaviour within the Avon and Somerset Police area. The methodology adopted is primarily focused around ‘Cope and Recover’ and is aimed at enabling young victims to move on from their experience as quickly as possible. To this end the Young Victims’ Advocates (as the staff are known) aim to deliver a short-term intervention of up to seven sessions.
This is usually only offered to young people aged eight and over, as in our experience it is less successful below this age. The Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) has commissioned the Service to deliver up to age 18 – but with the flexibility to work up to age 25 where there are ‘additional needs’ – for instance in recognition of variable maturation levels. This means that there is a lot of scope to support victims 8 to 25 years and working approaches and methodologies are very much bespoke to the assessed needs, developmental stage and preferences of the young person being worked with. Due to geographic, age and offence variations, the work to date has been one-to-one with young victims, which also meets their preferences and expectations.
The relationship between the Service and the YOS has worked well – both with the YOS in North Somerset and with links to other Youth Offending Services across the South West sub-region. While Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) have a responsibility to work with victims of young people who offend, irrespective of their age, the Young Victims’ Service has opened a door to a wider range of victims. Many are still victims of other young people and the interface with YOTs has enhanced the services available to both young victims and their offenders. In addition there has been increasing recognition that young offenders can often also be young victims – and that young victims can, in their struggle to cope with what has happened to them, cross the line to become offenders. These important realisations have enriched approaches by both the YOTs and the Young Victims’ Service and built fresh insights into the experience of offenders and victims. From this there is opportunity to reduce recidivism and promote, where appropriate, the use of Restorative Justice (RJ) methodologies.
It is interesting to note that while all victims are offered the option of RJ, uptake has been low, except where the offender in the incident has been a young person working with a YOT. This may reflect a higher desire for the use of RJ by Youth Justice practitioners than by young victims, who prefer not to re-engage with those who have caused them harm.
The Service has worked with a good number of young victims since its launch nearly two years ago. All young victims have an assessment of their needs at the start and end of their intervention, looking at Health and Wellbeing, Safety Perception, Re-Integration, Feeling Informed and Experience of Service. These assessments are scored between one and five to show Critical Need, Enhanced Need, Coping, Recovery and Resilience in accordance with an Outcome Matrix developed by the OPCC in consultation with Service partners. In all measures the Service is demonstrating positive movement of at least one point across aggregated scores. In individual cases these movements are frequently greater and we are delighted to report that there have been no instances of negative movement.
The Young Victims’ Service is now almost halfway through the initial three-year funding agreement (which has an option for a fourth year by agreement). The longer-term future of the Service sits, in the first instance, with the PCCs office as funders and this will be subject to ongoing evaluation.
About the author(s)
Mike Rees worked in various management and practitioner roles in Probation Services prior to appointment as Service Leader of the North Somerset Youth Offending Service (YOS) in 1999. In the years since he has grown the YOS in North Somerset to include the Substance Advice Service, Junction 21 Mentoring and Advocacy Service, Youth Inclusion and Support Programme. The YOS also provides a management level in relation to North Somerset’s High Impact Families Programme as a part of the Government Troubled Families Initiative, North Somerset, and most recently the Young Victims’ Service.
Howard Wilson, having trained as a teacher and Youth Worker, joined the Youth Offending Service as Restorative Justice and Supervision Manager following a career in the third sector – originally in voluntary sector youth and community organisations and more recently with the Connexions Service in Bristol. Since joining the YOS he has developed pre-court disposal panels, reparation projects, parenting support, young offenders’ educational provision, and managed victim contact and Restorative Justice processes. He has taken on the design, bidding and subsequent operational management of the Young Victims’ Service as an exciting development within this role.
Wilson H and Rees M (2016) Young Victims’ Service: Annual Report 2015-6. Weston-super-Mare: North Somerset Council.