Jury is out on youth justice

24th August 2007 at 01:00
THE MONEY and effort that go into dealing with young people who break the law have increased significantly but whether this does much good remains unclear.

Funding for youth justice services increased by more than 50 per cent over the five years to 200506, police and children's reporters are processing cases more quickly, and hundreds of extra social workers have been recruited.

But despite the Scottish Executive's "consistent commitment to improving youth justice services", the impact is "not yet demonstrated" and "limited pro gress" has been made on previous recommendations.

The findings emerge in an Audit Scotland report, published this week, which looks at all aspects of youth justice.

It shows that the Scottish Executive's funding of such services rose from pound;235 million in 200001 to more than pound;336 million in 200506, a period that also saw the introduction of national standards and targets for youth justice services, and a range of support and guidance for local authorities.

The report highlights an increase in services and improvements in "partnership working at a local level". Police reporting meets national standards for timeliness, it is taking far less time for children's reporters and hearings to process referrals and reach decisions, and 500 extra children's services social workers have been recruited.

Despite these improvements, "significant challenges" remain:

* The reduction of offences committed by young people: the Executive's target of reducing the number of persistent young offenders by 10 per cent by March 2006 has not been met.

* An increase in referrals to the children's reporter has put pressure on the children's hearings system, and there is evidence that some referrals would be better served by other organisations taking action themselves. (The police makes the greatest number of referrals).

* The introduction of anti-social behaviour orders for 12-15 year-olds has "created tensions" with other ways of dealing with young offenders. Most councils have found it difficult to overcome disparities between the child centred children's hearings system and the community-focused antisocial behaviour legislation.

* More emphasis is needed on prevention and early intervention to reduce offending in the long term.

* Improvements in NHS and local authority education services' "engagement with the youth justice agenda" are still needed in some areas.

Robert Black, Auditor General for Scotland, said: "Youth justice is a complex area. It is encouraging that recent initiatives have resulted in some improvements. The executive has given a commitment to develop new measures that give a broader picture of the behaviour of young people. This should be welcomed. Effective performance measures would make it easier to direct resources where they will have greatest impact."

Alastair MacNish, chair of the Accounts Commission, said: "Local authorities have put substantial effort into youth justice services, and it is pleasing to hear that they are generally working very well with other agencies."

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