It was noticeable for me that the recent YJB conference had a kind of ‘end-of-era’ feel about it. Compared to the first, with Norman Warner lambasting us youth justice staff for being stuck in the past and saying that our practice was neanderthal, this was very low key. There were discussions about what might happen to the YJB in the future, but very few hard facts about how the transfer over to the Ministry of Justice will take place.
What is clear is that an era is ending; one which can be easily named the era of managerialism. It was the era when the process became more important than the outcome for the young person, for which YOTs were not held accountable. How and why are two words that spring to mind when you consider the logic behind that methodology for reducing re-offending. Now, by contrast, no team can afford to employ managers who just measure targets as budgets are under severe threat.
The question is how will we respond as managers and practitioners? Some might say that if you removed the targets, the average practitioner wouldn’t know what to do; so institutionalised have they become by the targets culture. The concept of building a real relationship with an “offender” as a means of preventing them reoffending would be an alien concept: much easier to hide behind a computer screen. I do not believe this, mainly because I’ve interviewed hundreds of people now working in the youth justice system over the last few years. For most, targets have been an unwelcome distraction from their real work. However the real work is about to start so welcome to the new paradigm!
YOTs bloated by bureaucracy created by pointless targets, just like the YJB itself, are on a massive slim down. Some people suggest they will be reduced to a skeleton framework working around a court, supervising orders, writing PSRs, etc. This may happen in some areas. However in other areas YOTs can become a dynamic force, working with young people to divert them from deeper involvement in the youth justice system.
So goodbye, Youth Justice Board. Some would say good riddance. For me the feelings are more ones of disappointment. There was an opportunity to set up a dynamic, far-seeing organisation dedicated to bringing out good practice. Instead we found ourselves with an organisation unsure of its mission with an increasingly bureaucratic mindset. So much potential, so little realised!