Hearing new voices: Re-viewing Youth Justice Policy through

Hearing new voices: Re-viewing Youth Justice
Policy through Practitioners’ Relationships with
Young People
Deborah H. Drake, Ross Fergusson and Damon B. Briggs
International Centre for Comparative Criminological Research at
the Open University
Dyadic Relations and Praxis
Interview results
Implications and concluding thoughts
The ‘New Youth Justice’ and practitioner-young person
• Managerialism
National standards, Standardisation, decreased discretion,
technocratic and formulaic (Fergusson, 2007; Case, 2006; McLaughlin and
Muncie, 2000)
• ‘What works’ agenda
• ‘Authoritarian corporate correctionalism’ (McNeil, 2006:
‘Zombification of youth justice’ (Pitts, 2001)
‘… the overwhelming desire of government to control policy all the way
down to the point of implementation means that a rich repertoire of
responses to the complex problem of youth crime is reduced to a
narrow range of correctional techniques....’ (Pitts’ (2001: 12).
Discretion, ‘practice
wisdom’ and relationships
• ‘Street Level Bureaucracies’ (Lipsky, 1980)
• ‘Practice wisdom’ (DeRoos, 1990: 282)
form of professionally or locally held knowledge that practitioners draw upon when
exercising discretion.
Resistance is everywhere
‘Compliance drift’ under Asset (Baker, 2005)
Autonomous practitioners (Briggs, 2013)
‘Discriminatory potential’ (Eadie and Canton, 2002)
• Coalition Government – increased discretion?
What actually ‘works’?
Relationships matter
• Practitioner – young person relationship essential to
inter-personal skills, discretion, warmth, trust, empathy, advocacy
(Phoenix and Kelly, 2013; Sharpe, 2011; Annison et al., 2008; McNeill and Maruna,
2008; Barry, 2007; Farrow et al., 2007; Stephenson et al., 2007 McNeill, 2006a, 2006b;
Barron, 2000)
• France and Homel (2006: 305−306):
‘is not so much programmes and content but a good supportive relationship with
an adult who is not judgmental and is able to offer guidance and advocacy when
• Prior and Mason (2010: 211)
“question of how to secure young people’s engagement is scarcely examined in
research on interventions with young offenders, despite an apparent
preoccupation with ‘what works’”.
Dyadic Relationships and
use of Praxis
• Dyadic relationships
involve two people in a relationship that includes some level of interdependency.
Unity through conflict (Sears, 1951; Simmel, 1902)
Reciprocal incremental disclosure (Wolman, 1973).
• Praxis
Theory and knowledge in practice/ action
‘Praxis refers to the link between theory and practice, and the struggle that exists
in all intellectual movements to transform existing (oppressive or marginalizing)
societal conditions into meaningful reflection, action and change. Praxis is a
complicated and intricate phenomenon because it entails a reconstitution of
culture, institutions, relationships and social interaction, such that a more humane,
emancipatory climate of pro-social civic life prevails’ (Arrigo, 2001: 219−220).
• Obstacles to praxis:
Do current policies permit self-determination?
Acting on ‘true words’ will not always produce change
Issues with replicability ?
Practitioner – young person relationship pilot
study results
• Semi-structured in-depth interviews with a range of
YOT practitioners.
• Limited sample but supplemented and backed up
with other research literature.
• Perspectives of practitioners offer crucial reference
points for interpreting young people’s accounts of
moving away from offending and relationships with
Evidence for the importance of the practitioner –
young person relationship
“… well I think the relationship with the officer will then affect the level of
engagement and that’s just a magic formula isn’t it? Why do some
people get on and some don’t?”
“Well also I think it’s about if the young person has someone to listen to
them, which doesn’t have to be done in a namby pamby [sic] way, you
can be quite firm or strict with somebody if you like but they have got
respect for that…. I think it is a mutual respect which makes a big
“And also just having somebody that is not directly related to the family
who may be in a position of authority, who can relate to them, act as an
advocate for them, which I think we do and be firm and fair and
Trust, mutual respect, genuineness, warmth, empathy and
advocacy - essential elements of helping relationships with children
(Green et al., 2013; Milbourne, 2009b; Merton et al., 2004; Brandon et
al., 1998)
Evidence of Simmel’s dyadic relations of conflict
and inter-dependency
“I have had some very difficult conversation with some of them…. I’ve said look
you know your behaviour has been very difficult, I am going to have to take you
back to court and you will have to go to custody but we can work through that
and still have the relationship because they have known all along that that will
happen to them if they do that”.
Ilan (2010: 32) study –
“I’ll need to stay with them for a year nearly before finally I could say to them….
They have to be aware they might be the kings of the block, but they’re not the
kings of the world as such and they can’t do anything they want to do… a year
anyway for any impact to be had… or understanding to be instilled”.
‘initiate a gradual process of transformative reflexivity’
“… interestingly there are situations where some young people have ended their
orders and they are actually quite disappointed because they have lost… the
support network they have had here. There have been reported cases of reoffending which well may be linked to that, the need to get back that support
Respecting young people’s autonomy
“So I look at current use, what they are using but I focus on strengths
and their attitude to drugs, how they view the future. And whether or
not there is anything we can work on. If they say I’m not looking to make
any change, then in a nutshell I can’t impose that. Then I say it would be
great if I could but I can’t. So let’s look at what we can do…. It’s a
difficult area of work to impose on a young person because they have
their own views, so right from the off I say I can’t make you do anything,
but I will help you live more healthily in a way that will stop you coming
back in contact with the court.… You need to respect their control”.
“. If you can find their one little hook…With a girl that was here on an
intensive order she went to work at the manor in the stables and that
was her little bit of a saviour. She didn’t like horses, she didn’t want to
ride but she loved being there and doing all the mucking out… so it is
just trying to find that thing for them.”
Dyadic relations, space and place
“The work that we did with him, we gradually re-engaged him. He was a very
bright boy, but what we did to begin with, so things like, for example we would go
to the city centre for a walk and he would have to go and get something from
the shop. And he was amazed that his officer would talk to other people in a
shop, you know how you do… he would say why are you talking to that person
you don’t know them? ... and it kind of brought out the issue of communication
and introducing him to new things?”
• Rodd and Stewart’s (2009: 8) study:
The informal stuff is as important as the formal stuff; it is the glue that holds our
work together, the unstructured time, the coffee breaks, the sitting around
the campfire…. It can work to ‘walk and talk’
Broadening horizons
“He began to realize that he hadn’t wasted everything because he was
quite bright but he hadn’t been at school. So he got into college….there is
still the odd blip if you like….he also found a girlfriend which was also a
stabilizing influence…. We did interesting interventions with him… he would
say I haven’t been to this part of [place] before. So we would do a lot about
broadening his horizons, making him do things that were slightly out of his
comfort zone. Probably it was quite successful with him.”
Lemma (2010: 18−19) study – reimagining their own capabilities.
Respectful relations encourage change
Tipping points and moments that matter
“He began to realize that he hadn’t wasted everything”
“If you can find their one little hook”
Annison et al. (2008: 266) – ‘Ah ha’ moments
Lemma (2008) “you have to give them space... its like a switch”
Concluding comments
• Critical question:
What would the young people have made of the quality of the
• Dyadic relationships, dynamism and discretion key.
Little research on minutiae of successful working
relationships identifying ‘moments that matter’.
• Need for increased focus on practitioner and
young people’s voices.
Challenges ahead?
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