How should we assess young people who offend?

Assessment in youth justice coverYoung people who offend often present a complex mix of needs, strengths, problems, risks and possibilities for change. Professionals working in this field are faced with the challenge of understanding this complexity as a basis for then deciding how to intervene; the question of how to go about doing this effectively is now the subject of a new book, ‘Assessment in Youth Justice’ by Kerry Baker, Gill Kelly and Bernadette Wilkinson. We have written it for ‘people who care about practice’ with young people who offend and a key premise is that one important way of improving outcomes is to improve the quality of assessments and intervention plans. In the book we argue:

‘Assessment matters. It matters because of the impact it can have on the lives of young people who offend. It matters because of the consequences for victims and communities of the decisions that are made by youth justice practitioners. It matters for organisations that have a responsibility for reducing offending, promoting rehabilitation and protecting the public.’

Whilst there is an extensive literature on core assessment principles and skills in fields such as social work, this often does not address the specific context of youth justice. In addition, where there have been debates about assessment in the criminal justice world these have tended to either adopt a narrow focus on risk prediction or to become polarised arguments about the merits of particular approaches (such as the use of structured assessment tools).

We believe, however, that there is a need for a new resource that draws on knowledge about assessment from other fields whilst also focusing in detail on practice in youth justice. We don’t see assessment as merely a technical or tick-box activity and instead believe that it is a task requiring depth of knowledge and a wide range of skills. The book aims to set out the foundations for good practice but also to prompt practitioners to follow-up on areas of interest for themselves. Just as an assessment should trigger new lines of inquiry or further exploration of particular issues, using a book of this kind should also lead to action on the part of readers. We have written it with the aim of encouraging inquisitiveness and curiosity and we hope that it will be a jumping-off point for exploring new ideas that will help to improve practice.

Kerry Baker, one of the authors of Assessment in youth justice, publishing this month.

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