Understanding Social Work Roles: Youth Offending Team (YOTs)

Our mission as a social work collective is to support our community in the best way we can, and showcase the brilliant services and practice taking place across the country. We want the rest of the world to recognise the valuable contributions social workers make to our society and to explain more about the different areas of work we all do. As part of this, we’re starting a series of interviews with practitioners nationwide to delve into various areas of social work and explain what it’s actually like to work in a particular role. It may motivate you to consider a move within social work to an unexpected job description or perhaps may inspire young people to enter social work as a profession. We want to support the next generation of our community so that good practice in the UK can continue for years to come.  

We begin with an investigation into understanding Youth Offending Teams and what it’s like to work in a YOT.

What is involved in working in a Youth Offending Team?

“YOTs are a multi-disciplinary team whose aim is to prevent children and young people from offending and to help them restore the damage caused to their victims. The concept of this team was first introduced in 2000 following the Crime & Disorder Act 1998. As a YOT, you work to supervise and support young people aged between 10 to 18 years who have committed offences and have received a Youth Caution, Youth Conditional Caution or an order from the Court. In some areas, the service also delivers prevention work with young people who have not yet offended, but who are considered ‘at risk’ of offending.”

What does a normal day look like in your role?

“There’s not really a simple answer here as working for a Youth Offending Team is a very varied role. As a social worker, you deal with three elements of ‘risk’, which are: risk a young person poses to others (harm to others), risk of re-offending and risk to self (self-harm and suicide).

Typically in this role, social workers can expect to:

  • Manage and work with children, young people and families involved in offending behaviour.
  • Safeguarding children and young people from harm/suicide.
  • Safeguarding and protecting public from harm.
  • Undertake Assessments (C&F Assessments, Asset, SAVRY).
  • Undertake Pre-Sentence Reports.
  • Prison work – Secure Children’s Homes, Secure Welfare Centres and Youth Offending Institutes.
  • Attended Courts (Youth, Magistrates and Crown) as a Court Officer identifying and recommending sentencing options to Magistrates and Judges.

Given that offences can be more serious than others, some YOTs have specific teams. For example, there will be a ‘first entry’ team, which work predominately with children and young people who first enter the Youth Justice System. Then there are teams that deal with the more serious offending/offences. This can include Possession of Offensive Weapons, Drugs and/or exhibit Sexually Harmful Behaviour etc.”

Did you need any particular training or accreditation for this role?

“No. You’re not required to undertake any accreditation for this role. However, The Open University run a fantastic ‘Youth Justice’ module which I’d recommend looking at.

While there’s no specific qualifications or accreditation for this role, I think social workers in YOTs would benefit from further training on understanding and working in Criminal Courts. This is because it is very different to Family Court Work. As a Court Office you are the sole representative from the YOT. As such, it is essential that you have a detailed understanding in relation to offences and their sentencing threshold, criminal legislation (relevant to young people) as well as a detailed understanding of safeguarding legislation.”

Why did you choose to go down this particular area of social work?

“I have always been interested in criminology and sociology and studied it prior to social work. Therefore, I was naturally drawn to YOT work, as I wanted to understand why children and young people entered the Criminal Justice System. I wanted to see what could be done and what support I could offer to help development and making positive choices as a shared journey. I believe that offending by young people is not a criminal matter, moreover it is a welfare-based issue which requires support from a holistic perspective. I have always been passionate about supporting young people who have often been marginalised from society – this seemed a worthwhile pursuit of that passion.”

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

“Working in partnership with children, young people and families and helping them achieve their full potential is the most rewarding aspect of this role. Whether this be finding them appropriate education, employment or just offering them stability in what can often be a challenging environment.”

What is the most challenging part of being a YOT?

“As a social worker, working within YOT can be challenging as you are constantly having to balance ‘welfare vs punishment’, which conflicts with social work values and ethics. For example, it was always hard seeing young people sentenced to custody. All young people I have worked with have entered the Youth Justice System as a result of circumstances and factors that have often been out of their control, whether it be 2nd or 3rd generation involvement in offending behaviour or little to no support from primary or secondary factors (immediate and extended family members/carer(s).”

What advice would you offer to a student social worker or NQSW who is considering working as a YOT?

“Anyone looking at work with the YOT, must do their research of the relevant criminal legislation as well as have a good understanding of safeguarding legislation and protocols.

Although this is not an exhaustive list, some recommended reading/research includes:

Legislation/Policy:

  • Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984
  • Children Act 1989
  • Crime & Disorder Act 1998
  • Children Act 2004
  • Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008
  • Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012
  • Working together to Safeguard Children

Intervention Models:

  • Restorative Justice
  • Solution Focused
  • Signs of Safety
  • Good Lives Model

It’s a really enjoyable and rewarding role within social work, but does require lots of understanding of legislation, so make sure that’s something you’re prepared to do.”

Want to get involved?

Do you want to tell us (and our social work community) what it’s like to work in your role? Then email us at central@onestopsocial.co.uk to see if we can arrange an interview.

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