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Improving children’s services
Editor:

Four years after the publication of the influential Munro Report (2011) this important publication draws together a range of experts working in the field of child protection to critically examine what impact the reforms have had on multi-agency child protection systems in this country, at both local and national level. With a particular emphasis on early intervention, vulnerable adolescents and effective multi-agency responses to young people at risk, specialists from policy and practice alongside academics in different areas of children’s services consider progress in improving child protection arrangements, in transforming services and the challenges that remain. Local Safeguarding Children Boards (LSCBs), the statutory bodies responsible for local scrutiny of child protection arrangements, are now subject to Ofsted inspection and this publication considers the role of LSCBs, how services should respond to the most vulnerable children and what ‘good’ services look like.

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What next after Munro?

The number of children entering the child protection system has risen dramatically in the last three years with implications for children’s services and partner agencies. This timely volume takes a critical look at the impact of the Munro Review (2011) on child protection and the Government’s response. It looks at questions including how effective Local Safeguarding Children Boards are in providing the necessary scrutiny to ensure children are safe, how the early offer of help at local level might reduce the numbers of children at the critical end of the spectrum and whether reducing regulation from the centre will result in better outcomes for the most vulnerable? Moreover, it also considers those young people who traditionally bypass child protection services but remain at risk of harm. These are critical questions for both policy and practice in understanding the reforms Munro states are required. Contributions from leading experts working in the child protection system review current safeguarding policy and explore the future after Munro.

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Is early intervention working?

The 2008 UK government Youth Crime Action Plan emphasises prevention and early intervention in different aspects of work with young people who offend or are considered to be ‘at risk’ of offending. Much of this approach includes targeted work with families and work to reduce the numbers of young people entering the youth justice system.

This report takes a critical look at early intervention policies. Through contributions from leading experts on youth work and criminal justice it considers the development of integrated and targeted youth support services and the implications for practice of early intervention policies; analyses the causes of serious violent crime through consideration of issues that address gangs and guns; provides an evaluation of the government’s early intervention strategy through the examination of its Sure Start programme and other family initiatives; identifies the psychobiological effects of violence on children and links them to problem behaviour; considers the impacts of family intervention projects and parenting work and compares approaches to early intervention across different jurisdictions and examines the lessons for practice in England and Wales.

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Author:

Public opinion tends consistently to overestimate the scale and trend in offending as recorded official crime data. This applies to offending among young people as well as to offending among adults. Over the last decades, youth crime has become highly politicised, resulting in the increased custodial figures and increasingly tough posturing by the ministers over approaches to dealing with young people who committed crime. While there has been a downward trend in offending by young people, the concern and view on the criminal behaviour of children remains high. This high concern on the criminality of children was spurred by cases that have caused a moral outcry and public disturbance that led to the perception that violence is out of control. This view was further reinforced by the re-categorisation of children and young people in the youth system as ‘offenders’ rather than as children with complex needs. This chapter focuses on a category of cases known as ‘serious incidents’ in the youth justice system. It focuses on the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales (YBJ) which outlined the definition of serious incidents that covers both children and young people who commit grave crimes, and captures those children and young people who attempt to commit suicide while under the supervision of the Youth Offending Team (YOT). This chapter examines the definition and purpose of the YBJ’s serious incident guidelines. It also outlines the process itself and considers the characteristics of the young people involved in serious incidents in the youth system justice. The chapter ends with some recommendations of the author who was a former serious incident manager for the YBJ and relevant reports from the inspections of YOTs.

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Author:

In a precursor to this volume (Blyth and Solomon, 2012), the editors concluded that while there was overall support from government, professionals and academics for Professor Munro’s reforms, there was little information on the detail of implementation. Consequently, there remained some ambiguity about how the necessary changes in improved outcomes for the most vulnerable children and young people would occur. Furthermore, concerns were expressed that a narrow definition of child protection work would undermine progress begun a decade ago under the Every child matters agenda to make safeguarding ‘everybody’s business’ (Department for Education, 2004). Indeed, many of the Munro recommendations focused on changing social work practice, with less overt attention given to the wider multi-agency framework in which the child protection system sits. This volume reviews the Munro reforms (Munro, 2011) through a multi-agency lens.

The conclusions of the previous volume highlighted a number of overlapping challenges to the implementation of the Munro review, some echoed by Munro herself in her own review of progress (Munro, 2012). These included: the capacity of the workforce; diminishing public sector resources; the future of early intervention approaches and partnership working; the risk of unintended consequences; and the impact of wider public sector reforms affecting the National Health Service (NHS) and schools. This volume has given attention to these areas, which are dealt with in the following text.

Reviewing progress against the Munro reforms, all contributors to this volume have, to different degrees, considered the impact on the wider multi-agency child protection system. All are in agreement that it is impossible to separate policy and practice about child protection from the legislative context surrounding children at risk across social care, criminal justice, education and health settings.

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Author:

It is evident that the harm that children can suffer from living in families with complex problems cannot be prevented by the social care system alone. There must also be a coordinated response from a range of services, including health, police, schools, national policy makers and communities themselves. Together, they must create an environment that supports and nurtures families and challenges and intervenes to prevent unacceptable behaviour. (Ofsted, 2013a, p 10)

Protecting children from harm is far from straightforward. During 2013/14 we have seen an increased and nationwide focus on the tragic deaths and serious injuries of children across the country and arguably more awareness of the risks facing young people in relation to sexual exploitation and sexual abuse. The public insistence that children should be safe and an understandable shock at the tragic circumstances in which some children die or are seriously harmed has been exacerbated by the number of high-profile serious case reviews (SCRs) published during 2013 (eg Daniel Pelka, Coventry; Keanu Williams, Birmingham; Hamza Khan, Bradford). Of the 133 SCRs under way in November 2013, it is expected that 94% will be published (Association of Independent Chairs of LSCBs, 2013). At best, this has allowed a candid dialogue about the challenges facing front-line professionals and organisations tasked with protecting children from maltreatment and poses fundamental questions for us as a society. At its worst, the requirement to publish SCRs has led to a tide of disquiet from the media and public, suggesting that the focus of these inquiries on ‘learning lessons’ has become a meaningless mantra.

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Alongside the current media public preoccupation with high-risk offenders, there has been a shift towards a greater focus on risk and public protection in UK criminal justice policy. Much of the academic debate has centered on the impact of the risk paradigm on adult offender management services; less attention has been given to the arena of youth justice and young adults. Yet, there are critical questions for both theory - are the principles of risk management the same when working with young people? - and practice - how can practitioners respond to those young people who cause serious harm to others? - that need to be considered.

The distinguished contributors to “Young people and ‘risk’" consider risk not only in terms of public protection but also in terms of young people’s own vulnerability to being harmed (either by others or through self-inflicted behaviour). One of the report’s key objectives is to explore the links between these two distinct, but related, aspects of risk.

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Managing the risk

Over the last decade, the reformed youth justice system has seen increases in the numbers of children and young people in custody, a sharp rise in indeterminate sentences and the continuing deaths of young prisoners. The largest proportion of funding in youth justice at national level is spent on providing places for children and young people remanded and sentenced to custody.

The publication of the Youth Crime Action Plan during 2008 and the increasing emphasis on early intervention provides a framework to consider again the interface between local services and secure residential placements.

This report brings together contributions from leading experts on young people and criminal justice to critically examine current policy and practice. There are vital questions for both policy and practice on whether the use of custody reduces re-offending or whether other forms of residential placements are more effective long-term. The report looks at current approaches to the sentencing and custody of children and young people, prevention of re-offending and a range of alternative regimes.

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This introductory chapter summarises the nature of discussions and themes prevalent in the book. It discusses first the terms ‘young people’ and ‘risk’ which are the dominant themes in the book. In this introduction and the book, young people refer to the children under 18 years old and young adults in their 20s. While the focus is on the children and young people in the youth justice system, the gradual transition from childhood to adulthood is considered as well. The notion of risk in relation to young people is also clarified in this chapter. It specifically looks at the three different perspectives of the concept of risk. First, it examines the risk that young people who have been victims and perpetrators of crimes pose to themselves and how this manifest itself in violent behaviour and different types of mental health disorders. Second, it examines the risk that young people who commit serious crimes pose to the public and how agencies who work with them produced and developed assessment tools, practices and procedures to support them. Finally, it examines the early identification of children who exhibit risk factors that are believed to be linked to the possibility of future serious offending and the need for preventive interventions.

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