Addressing childhood trauma of young offenders and understanding social media use in crimes can reduce offending

THE PUBLIC can be better protected from dangerous and violent young offenders if adults working with them are trained to understand the often extreme trauma in their childhoods, according to Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation.

Youth justice workers will also be more effective if they ‘catch up’ with fast-changing social media communications which feature in an increasing proportion of offences. Professionals across the country need a clear understanding of their powers to monitor social media use to prevent crimes, which are often now planned in bedrooms rather than on street corners.

Publishing a report – The Work of Youth Offending Teams to Protect the Public – Dame Glenys said helping these damaged young people was very difficult but inspectors had found that YOTs were “protecting the public well, and also doing good work to change young people’s lives for the better. However,” she added, “with some changes and help, they could do better still.” The changes involve ensuring that ‘trauma-informed’ youth offending work and sharper understanding of the social media dimension of offending – both only seen in a small number of YOTs – become national practice.

Mental health experts told inspectors that many young people under YOT supervision had experienced post-traumatic stress. Dame Glenys said: “Most young people who commit serious crimes have had disturbing and traumatic experiences themselves, during childhood, and a good number are now in the care of their local authority. These young people are more likely to get into difficulties, and offend, and once in trouble they are less likely than others to trust adults or to respond any help on offer, unless it takes account of their experiences.”

The report contains summaries by youth justice workers of the often disturbing stories they heard. These included separation and estrangement from parents; the death of a parent or main carer; sexual abuse; severe physical chastisement; and serial domestic abuse and parental substance misuse. One third of young people in the 115 cases examined had grown up in a household with a formal record of domestic abuse.

Dame Glenys added: “We found YOT staff working sensitively and intuitively with them, but with insufficient formal planning, or good, up-to-date and well-ordered guidance and support materials. Given the prevalence of trauma for these young people, there is a strong case for all YOTs to adopt what is known as trauma-informed practice.”

Social media was found to be the catalyst for some of the most serious and violent offences and was leading young people to commit types of crime in ways that were “inconceivable just a few years ago.” One youth worker told inspectors: “Our young people used to hang around on street corners and parks before committing offences. Now they sit alone in their bedrooms and get into arguments or plan offences on their phones, tablets or computers.”

Dame Glenys said: “This is new behaviour. Many of these young people shun Facebook and other common applications, in favour of lesser known and, therefore, more private media. We found offence scenarios inconceivable just a few years ago, with social media used to both incite and plan crime.” Cases included:

  • Arguments and personal abuse starting on social media leading to physical assaults in the street or on public transport.
  • Young people being blackmailed online, using indecent images that they had previously been pressured to upload.
  • Gangs posting video material to appeal for members, to stake their territory and to issue challenges to other gangs.

YOTs need help to catch up with social media-related crime, Dame Glenys said.  While there were pockets of good work, “there is not enough relevant and up-to-the minute advice and information available nationally to help them work with those whose offending is directly linked and fuelled by social media. There is also a strong case for monitoring the social media output of young people who pose a risk to others.”

Inspectors found youth offenders teams in London, where gang crime was more prevalent, were “more in tune” with the social media element of offending. The report contains a glossary of social media ‘codes’ compiled by a police officer in the YOT in Waltham Forest, north London.


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Notes to editors

  1. The report is available from 26 October 2017 at
  2. 152 Youth Offending Teams supervise young offenders aged from 10 to 18 in England and Wales.
  3. The HMI Probation report – The Work of Youth Offending Teams to Protect the Public – follows an inspection in May and June 2017 of the cases of 115 young people who had committed violent, sexual and other serious offences. The inspection team visited YOTs in Cheshire West, Halton & Warrington; Croydon; Gateshead; Hertfordshire; North Tyneside; Nottinghamshire; and Waltham Forest.
  4. For further information please contact John Steele, HMI Probation Chief Communications Officer, on 020 3681 2775 or 07880 78745, or