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Youth courts: a problem-solving approach in Blackburn

Monday 12th June, 2017

CGL's Go2 service in Blackburn was recently mentioned in a feature article in the Youth Justice publication:

Blackburn Magistrates’ Court is one of the first to try a problem-solving approach to work with young offenders in an effort to improve their wellbeing and cut reoffending rates. Jo Stephenson investigates

Opened in 1912, Blackburn Magistrates’ Court is a grey stone edifice that looms over its town centre location. Arriving at the imposing listed building to appear before magistrates is a daunting experience for anyone, let alone a young person up before youth court for the first time. “It was horrible,” says Sarah*, recalling her first appearance aged 14 or 15. “I didn’t think it was right the youths sat in the same waiting room as the adults. It was intimidating.”

Although it was altogether an uncomfortable experience, that was not enough to prevent Sarah appearing before Blackburn’s youth panel several more times for various antisocial behaviour offences. Since then things have changed for those attending youth court in Blackburn, one of the first in the UK to trial a problem-solving approach for young offenders (see box, overleaf). The partnership project between the magistrates’ court and Blackburn with Darwen Youth Justice Service has not only strived to make the court experience “more young person friendly” but, crucially, ensure young offenders get extra support and advice on the spot that will hopefully mean they will not be seen in court again. The initiative, which won the CYP Now Youth Justice award in 2016, was the brainchild of Helen Meanwell, then deputy justice clerk for East Lancashire. Inspired by problem-solving approaches in adult courts, she was keen to “take it one stage further and tailor it specifically for youths, parents and other family members attending court with them”. “For me it was a golden opportunity to engage with young people in a way we’d never done before,” she says. “Young people – while waiting in court – are probably the most motivated to change at any time in their lives and it seemed a shame we didn’t do anything for them.”

[...]

Ruth Young, a young person’s worker with Go2 – Blackburn with Darwen Young People’s Drug and Alcohol Service – agrees the approach has improved links between organisations and timely referrals. All young people who get a court order will have a general health assessment anyway for substance misuse, physical health and emotional health.

But young people often turned up not knowing what to expect. For Young, the problem-solving court model is a chance to introduce herself and her service beforehand. According to her, the majority of young people coming through the youth court have experimented with cannabis and alcohol or been a regular user.

When so-called legal highs – known as NPS (new psychoactive substances) – became popular there was an “influx” of young people using them. “All three – alcohol, cannabis, NPS – at some point may have contributed to why they were coming to the youth offending service whether that was for drunk and disorderly behaviour, or robbery or burglary linked to substance misuse,” says Young.

Young people may come to court and no further action is taken but they too can be offered support “which otherwise they might not have been able to access or know where to access”, says Young.

Parents and carers can find out about the process their child is going through and what support they themselves could get, such as Go2’s carers service for parents of children using substances.

Meanwhile, adults who have their own substance misuse problems can also be swiftly signposted for help from the wider Inspire service of which Go2 is a part. An open access drop-in is literally around the corner from the court. “I say to them ‘once you have finished here why don’t you pop round’ – it is a dead easy process to follow,” says Young.

Read more about Youth Justice here.

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