Praise for work to curb rising knife crime in Sheffield
Sheffield’s youth offending team has been praised for its work to tackle rising knife crime in the city.
But inspectors say too many troubled children are being denied a proper education, with more than a fifth of the young people the team supports excluded from school when the review took place.
Sheffield Youth Justice Service was rated ‘good’ overall by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation, which highlighted a number of ‘outstanding’ features of its work with 10 to 18-year-olds who are either serving court sentences or have been dealt with by police but not prosecuted.
Inspectors were particularly impressed with efforts by the organisation – which is run by Sheffield Council and based at Star House in the city centre, alongside other children’s services – to curb rising knife crime in the city and to prevent vulnerable young people being exploited by criminal gangs.
But they called for the team’s leaders to work more closely with education chiefs to prevent so many children missing school, and to take extra measures to support staff and keep them safe.
Overall, the report, published today, makes very encouraging reading for members of the team.
The statistics show that while the proportion of young people in Sheffield entering the criminal justice system for the first time is slightly higher than the national average, at 296 per 100,000, the 30 per cent reoffending rate is much lower than the 40.9 per cent figure for England and Wales as a whole.
In his report, Justin Russell, chief inspector of probation, hails the service as being at the ‘forefront’ of Operation Fortify – a joint initiative to address the rise in knife and gang crime – particularly when it comes to stopping the practice known as ‘county lines’, where vulnerable children are groomed by gangs to become drug runners.
This, he said, involves working with police to map crime patterns, identify those most at risk of being exploited and divert them from crime, as well as visiting schools to warn young people of the dangers.
“Sheffield Youth Justice Service is very good with some really outstanding aspects. It’s probably in the top five per cent of those we’ve inspected over the last year,” said Mr Russell.
“It has an excellent service manager and really knowledgeable, skilled and well-trained staff who take the time to build up good relationships with young people.
“It’s also built up a strong network of partnerships, meaning children and young people have quick access to a wide range of targeted and specialist services to help them move away from further offending.”
The report commends staff as ‘committed, well trained and highly knowledgeable’ about the children they manage, with whom they take the time to develop ‘positive relationships’, and says they work well with partners both within the council and outside.
There is particular praise within the report for the team’s success at cutting the number of young people in care who end up with ‘unnecessary’ criminal records.
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Mr Russell explained that police were often called out to relatively minor incidents at care homes, where young people ‘kick out a bit’, which would go unreported had they occurred within a family home.
When this happened, he said, the youth justice team in Sheffield works with police officers and care home staff to find alternatives to a criminal caution or prosecution, which could involve an apology from the young person involved or community work, while ensuring those responsible receive the support they would had they gone through court.
Mr Russell said school exclusion rates among young offenders were high across the country, but he felt the team in Sheffield could be doing more to address the situation.
“It’s really important children and young people are in education. If not, they’re potentially rattling around the streets and getting involved in crime,” he said.
“We saw many examples of Sheffield’s YJS supporting excluded children to take up other forms of education and learning. However, this does not tackle the root cause of the problem.
“Every child is entitled to receive an education, and the service needs to address this at both a tactical and strategic level. We recommend it works with education providers to reduce the number of exclusions.
“There needs to be a representative from the council’s education department on the service’s management board – there has been a gap of more than a year and this is hindering progress.”
The report also calls for a review of the equipment and systems in place to protect workers’ wellbeing.
Inspectors found when they visited the service in May that the phones being used were ‘not fit for purpose and do not ensure the safety of staff’, though the report states new IT equipment is being rolled out.
Mr Russell said some of the children the service manages are connected with serious crime, meaning there is a risk to employees’ physical safety and a toll on their mental health should those young people be killed or seriously injured, as has happened.
The service was rated ‘outstanding’ in five out the 12 categories for which it was assessed, including staff, with the others all judged to be ‘good’.
Councillor Jackie Drayton, the council’s cabinet member for children, young people and families, said: “For our YJS employees to be rated ‘outstanding’ is a fantastic achievement. The comments made by the chief inspector are a credit to all those who work so hard every day to help young people lead better lives.
“We are working hard to address the areas for improvement, with a clear aim to make sure every child is in education. We know that with an extra focus in these areas, YJS will be well on their way to achieving an overall rating of ‘outstanding’.”
You can read the full report at www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprobation.