Evidence submitted by Youth Justice Board (POP0069)


Home Affairs Committee- Inquiry into Policing Priorities Youth Justice Board response, November 2022




1. Youth Justice Board (YJB) is a non-departmental public body with a unique focus on children in the youth justice system. Our statutory responsibilities along with the expertise of our Board enable us to set standards for, and monitor the operation of, the youth justice system. Our work with the youth justice system gives us an operational focus, which allows us to inform national policy and maintain a focus on the continuous performance improvement. The YJB is the only official body to have oversight of the whole youth justice system and so is uniquely placed to guide and advise on the provision of youth justice services.


2. Working to ensure a youth justice system that sees children as children, treats them fairly and helps them to build on their strengths so they can make a constructive contribution to society. This will prevent offending and create safer communities with fewer victims.

Youth Justice System Aims

3. Our Board have established the Youth Justice System Aims which are not only for the YJB to work towards but for the youth justice community as a whole. They are:

1)        To reduce the number of children entering the youth justice system

2)        To reduce reoffending from children in the youth justice system

3)        To improve the safety and wellbeing of children in the youth justice system

4)        To improve the positive outcomes of children in the youth justice system

At YJB we are committed to our over-arching guiding evidence-based principle of Child First1 outlined below.


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4. The YJB’s Child First vision is an evidence-based approach aimed at making society safer by enabling children to thrive.


5. The YJB has oversight of the whole youth justice system. It sets standards for, and monitors the operation of, the youth justice system. Our work with Youth Justice Services (YJS) gives us operational insight, which allows us to inform national policy and maintain a focus on the continuous performance improvement.


6. We are particularly interested in this inquiry into policing priorities. Police are vital partners in the youth justice system and have a pivotal role in creating a safe society in which children can thrive. This response seeks to provide responses to each area outlined in the Call for Evidence with a particular focus on the most pertinent areas relating to the relationship between the police and children.


YJB Response

What a modern police service, fit for the 2020s and beyond, looks like


7. A modern police service should be aligned with the evidence-based Child First principles. The National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC) have produced the Child Centred Policing strategy, which sets out an approach to policing which reflects the Child First approach. As the introduction to the strategy states: “Children and young people are not “mini-adults” and the better our policing for them is now, the less they may need us in the future. Every interaction leaves a mark, and we need to think carefully about what sort of mark that is”. The YJB welcomes this clear commitment to and supports Child Centred Policing as an approach that should shape the future priorities of policing.


8. The YJB collaborate with NPCC in promoting Child Centred Policing. On 28th March and 2nd August 2022, the YJB and NPCC chaired two pan policing roundtables with an aim to identify areas for improvement activity. Engagement has been strong with commitment to a further series of events in 2023 with targeted, measurable outputs. As part of these discussions, some key areas of improvement have been identified:



9. The YJB would support a clearer role for HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services and Police and Crime Commissioners in scrutinising the implementation of Child Centred Policing. They could also play a role in sharing good practice. Their influence and expertise is a powerful driver of engagement. 


10. More generally, the YJB has worked in partnership with NPCC to address inconsistent out of court disposal practice and review and update guidance documents for the operational sector. This will also the bring the guidance in line with the evidence base on effective crime prevention.  Consequently, two revised guidance documents have been published to set clear expectations for practice within a modern service. Additionally, over the past eighteen months we have worked closely with NPCC and other partners to review and update the Gravity Matrix (a triage tool designed to support decision making for police officers on most appropriate outcome or disposal). This had not been updated since 2013. A final draft of this tool is now available for consultation ahead of publication. We welcome continued engagement with the YJB as part of the shaping the practices and future priorities of policing.


11. Disproportionality across the youth justice system remains a particular concern. Recent analysis by the YJB has shown that2:

12. We have worked with colleagues across the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) to encourage use of YJB tools to examine disproportionality at a local level. We have also promoted a focus on disproportionality within Police and Crime Commissioner Plans.


13. As part of our statutory duty to maintain oversight of the youth justice system, YJB invited stakeholders to consider its current strengths and limitations. Between October 2021 and February 2022, a series of workshops with almost 300 people including children with experience of the system to youth justice practitioners to charities to government departments, including police colleagues. From those workshops, we produced a system map of youth justice for England and Wales and have analysed the content. This deep consultation provides qualitative evidence of the current strengths and limitations of the system and includes specific suggestions for improvements. YJB is sharing these recommendations so that they can be considered as part of business and strategic planning in youth justice organisations. The suggestions regarding policing can be found in detail in Annex A.


What balance police forces in England and Wales should strike between a focus on preventing and solving crime and carrying out their other functions


14. Whilst we recognise that this is a difficult balance to get right, the YJB’s approach is based on evidence that demonstrates that focussing on prevention and diverting children away from the justice system, will ease the pressure on forces downstream and their ability to focus on other crimes.


15. In many cases, children can be prevented or diverted from harmful behaviour through non-criminal justice interventions such as support from families, schools, health services and community groups. Escalating harmful behaviours caused by trauma or unmet needs, or through coercion, grooming and exploitation can lead to children committing offences. If early support and intervention is offered to children (and their parents and carers) to address unmet needs and safeguard them, this can prevent the onset or escalation of behaviour and entry into the youth justice system, reducing the need for police intervention and reducing the number of victims.


16. Promoting diversion and minimising criminal justice intervention does not mean advocating a system whereby no children can enter the youth justice system or be held in secure accommodation. For some children, it is necessary and appropriate for them to be dealt with through the youth justice system and provided with interventions and support by Youth Justice Services. Our approach is, however, based on the evidence that when necessary children should be been diverted from the youth justice system into child-appropriate, holistic support and services that seek to mitigate trauma and address unmet needs to prevent reoffending, i.e., through out of court disposal, which will ultimately decrease the pressure on police resources as a whole.


What roles police forces should prioritise


17. As mentioned previously, we would be keen to see the embedding of Child Centered Policing becoming a focus for all forces. The NPCC have worked in collaboration with stakeholders to create and update the key principles and framework for Child Centered Policing, as follows:


          Child Centered Policing Principals - principles were created by using the 4 pillars of procedural justice and the views expressed by children based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children

          Child Centered Policing Best Practice Framework – a framework that forces can use in developing a child centered policing approach.


What can be done to improve community policing and increase trust in police officers and forces, including on funding and on disciplinary powers when police officer behaviour falls below required standards


18. The participation and engagement of children is central to the Child First approach, and the Child Centred Policing strategy identifies ‘Engagement and relationship’ as a priority area. We are aware of many positive examples of formal consultation including youth commissions, summits and consultations.


19. There are numerous areas in which children’s experiences with police services could be improved, and a key part of this improvement stems from officers understanding the children they are working with. As an initial point, it is critical that gangs are properly defined and understood by police services. Failure to do so can lead to unnecessary criminalization of children and can erode trust. There is no precise definition of the term ‘gang’, which creates inconsistencies in interpretation. The statutory definition used in the Policing and Crime 2009 Act was provided for the purpose of obtaining a power regarding gang injunctions and is intentionally broad and wide-ranging to ensure that gang injunctions are used as an effective response to any gang activity encountered in a local area.  Where approaches are not properly targeted, less harmful, even normal peer and friendship groups, can become stigmatised and subject to surveillance and intervention, drawing children unnecessarily into the criminal justice system and leading to negative outcomes and a continually poor relationship with police. We are aware that Black boys are already disproportionately subject to stop and search by police, and we are particularly concerned that the peer groups of children from minority ethnic communities are disproportionately targeted in the way highlighted above. 


20. We would raise similar concerns when dealing with children who have been involved in  serious violence; i.e., carrying knives, having been criminally exploited and by extension, children who have been referred into the National Referral Mechanism (NRM). Through our work with partners and children within the justice system, the YJB understands that many children carry knives through coercive control and/or in response to feelings of fear and the need to protect themselves. Children involved in serious violence are increasingly likely to be victims of crime themselves – 44% of teenage children who had perpetrated violence in the last 12 months were victims of violence themselves3. They may not recocgnise they have been exploited for criminal purposes and they may not see themselves as victims of exploitation. Though this does not mitigate the action, police forces should work to understand the reasons why a child may be behaving in a certain way to avoid unnecessary criminalisation and perpetuating mistrust of the police.


21. The deployment of police into schools has become more common. The role of these police officers is, however, diverse. Some focus on investigation and intervention, while others are involved in education and prevention. There are no clear standards for the practice of police in schools and there is not a strong evidence base for this work. We would support further research in this area and the creation of an evidence base that can inform effective practice.


22. Through our Youth Advisory Network children have been able to voice their own opinions as to how the relationship with police could be improved, with some overall themes as follows:



Specifically, what the Metropolitan Police must do to increase trust under its new



23. YJB have met with Deputy Assistant Commissioner Connors to directly bring children’s voices to the police’s thinking and are working on a focus on increased community engagement that is based around a programme of activity that the children and their communities have helped to co-create. The YJB are fortunate to be in discussion with police colleagues to explore good practice relating to inclusive community engagement with children, including holding workshops with children and young adults. In addition, main themes that have been identified from discussions with policing colleagues and the Youth Advisory Network include the importance of reviewing the role of officers in schools, embedding the Child Centred Policing framework and reviewing the accountability framework and the processes enabling children and their carers to feedback on their experience with police.


What steps can be taken to improve national conviction rates, including via relationships

with other bodies such as the Crown Prosecution Service.


24. Whilst improving national conviction rates sits beyond our control, as mentioned in our response to question 2, if an increased focus is placed upon prevention and diverting children away from the justice system, there will be fewer victims of crime and fewer convictions.  YJS works with other criminal justice organisations including courts and CPS to promote Child First practices.


Annex A - Systems Mapping findings: Policing



  • Ideas for change
  • Outcomes (most relevant)


Physical Environment

  • Review incorporating regular breaks within the proceedings at the police station, YJ services and court.
  • Continue pilot for multi agency community hub - embedding police interviews into integrated space (appropriately safeguarded). –



  • Professionals and children are able to engage in a way that is easily understood
  • Enables active participation & safeguarding
  • Increased trust in relationships between children/professionals
  • Child first delivery of Youth Justice Services


Policy & Guidance

  • Change guidance for police so children are not returned home in a marked police car.
  • Children to create videos to raise awareness of children's rights (to be played on arrival at the police station).


  • Uphold rights of the child
  • Enable active participation
  • Increase trust between children and professionals
  • Increased belief in procedural fairness


Cross Sector


  • Departments and agencies to consider implementation of cross YJS peer reviews of child first delivery (e.g., court to court, court to police, policy to YCS).
  • Increase integration of youth justice services at the police station.
  • Explore innovative use of legal aid to support children at the police station/court e.g., could lawyers travel with children to court hearings.
  • YJS better able to advocate for children at the point of entering the police station. 
  • More effective use of technology suitable to meet children's needs
  • Early identification of children's needs.
  • Support services reaching children at an earlier point. 
  • Potential to overcome the clinical threshold barrier. 
  • Cost efficiencies. 

Review of current process

Cross Sector

Assess current practice and implement changes to improve safeguarding when police raid a property where they know a child will be held.


  • Improved engagement across the sector.
  • Improved outcomes for children.
  • Improved communication and planning.
  • Improved relationships between children, communities and policing.
  • Greater understanding by professionals of the needs of the child.


Review of current process

Internal Reviews

Undertake a review of community police officers in schools

  • Improved sharing and take-up, embedded across the sector.
  • Reduction in exploitation risks.
  • Increased awareness of YJ.
  • Improved service for children and families.
  • Reduction in the number of children entering the system.
  • Greater trust in the system.
  • Greater understanding by professionals of the needs of the child.
  • Improved evidence base.


Training & guidance

Consider training and onboarding activities across the sector. Ensure inclusion of an understanding of roles of key players in the system. Training for police on the long term benefits on prevention and diversion.


  • Understanding best practice when working with the child. 
  • Greater confidence.
  • Workforce are better trained to recognise the needs of teenagers.
  • Training that better meets the needs of children at a local level.
  • Clearer understanding across the system of roles and responsibilities.
  • Increased collective responsibility.
  • Increase use of prevention and diversion.
  • Professionals feel equipped to deal with cases, skills are not lost and capability maintained.
  • Increased skills and knowledge in trauma informed practice.
  • Workforce that is informed and able to support children who have been victims of exploitation.




November 2022