A total of 26 youth offending services were inspected over the past 12 months by HM Inspectorate of Probation, with the findings published in a special report today.
Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: “In cases involving a low-level offence, youth offending services can take steps to divert children and young people away from the formal justice system.
“This can be a positive outcome for the young person and can benefit the public, as they are encouraged to take steps to apologise for their offence and make some form of reparation to the victim or wider community.”
However, inspectors saw significant variation in the way police and youth offending teams decide whether a young person should receive an out-of-court disposal or be charged with an offence and dealt with by a youth court.
Mr Russell said: “Some services were too punitive, while others were too lenient or too inconsistent. This has led to a postcode lottery, where young people face different outcomes depending on where they live.
“We need national guidance on this issue to ensure young people dealt with through out-of-court disposals receive more consistent supervision and support.”
Over the past year, the Inspectorate has conducted hundreds of site visits and interviews, and looked at more than 1,000 cases. At each youth offending service, inspectors rated 12 aspects of work and awarded an overall performance rating.
Of the 26 services inspected, two were in Yorkshire - the East Riding Youth Offending Service and the Sheffield Youth Justice Service.
The East Riding Youth Offending Service was the one of just three out of the 26 inspected to receive the highest 'outstanding' grade, while the Sheffield Youth Justice Service and 11 other services were graded as 'good'.
A further eight services were graded as ‘require improvement’ while three were judged to be 'inadequate’.
Overall, inspectors were impressed with the calibre of leadership and staff working in youth offending services. Inspectors met committed and knowledgeable staff across the country, and found examples of strong working relationships to support children and young people to make better life choices.
In addition to concerns about the quality of some out-of-court disposal supervision, inspectors have highlighted poor provision of education to children who have offended.
Mr Russell said: “All children are legally entitled to receive an education, but we found examples of children known to youth offending services receiving little or no education at all. With time on their hands, some children are committing offences during school hours or are at risk of being groomed or enticed into crime.
“Youth offending services must support children to access education because it is crucial to their life chances. Every service is led by a Management Board; we found education representatives were missing in almost a third of our inspections. The lack of representation at a senior level has prevented some services from making satisfactory progress on this issue.”
Today’s report also includes preliminary results from a survey of the work that youth offending services are doing to tackle knife crime. Almost 60 per cent of respondents believe that knife crime is increasing in their area. While almost nine out of ten services provide knife crime interventions to the young people they work with, only 29 per cent had formally evaluated the impact of these programmes. Eighty-five per cent of services reported that they supervise young people who have themselves been victims of knife crime.
Inspectors also found that county lines offending – drug-dealing networks that often exploit children and young people – had become a major challenge for youth offending services and other criminal justice agencies. They praised “heroic efforts” by some teams to counter this offending, but found “a deeply concerning lack of awareness” in other regions.