Surrey youth offending service rated 'Inadequate' by inspectors

A service in Surrey that works with troubled children and young people is performing poorly and “very substantial” improvement is required, according to inspectors.

HM Inspectorate of Probation conducted a routine inspection in June of Surrey Youth Offending Service, which works with 10 to 18-year-olds who have offended.

Inspectors looked at 12 aspects of the service’s work and found that performance against eight of these standards was inadequate. They awarded an overall rating to the service of ‘Inadequate’ – the lowest possible rating.

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: “At the time of our inspection, Surrey Youth Offending Service had been through a large-scale restructure and new processes were still being established. We found a need for very substantial improvement.

“The service uses a mix of different systems to record and track information about children and young people who are involved in offending or at risk of committing crimes. As these are all separate systems, senior leaders do not have a complete picture of these children and so are failing to deliver a service to meet their needs.

“The service relies too heavily on national measures to judge its own performance, including the number of children and young people entering the criminal justice system for the first time. The rate of first-time entrants is indeed low in Surrey, but this does not indicate a high-performing service.”

Children and young people across England and Wales who commit minor offences can be diverted away from the criminal justice system. In these cases, they are not charged and are given conditional cautions or community resolutions instead. Inspectors found practice in out-of-court cases in Surrey was “of serious concern”.

Mr Russell said: “It is legitimate for youth offending teams to use diversion schemes and they can work well. However, there need to be solid principles in place that strike the right balance between public protection and ensuring children and young people are not charged unnecessarily. In Surrey, the process for out-of-court cases is poor and inconsistent.”

Inspectors found:

  • assessments were insufficient in more than half of the inspected cases and did not analyse why the individual committed the offence or what would help to change their behaviour
  • some children and young people undergo assessments while others did not – there was no clear rationale to explain this decision-making process
  • staff did not always record or under-estimated the level of risk that children and young people could pose to others
  • services to support children and young people to move away from crime were not coordinated and this compromised their safety.

Mr Russell said: “Worryingly, the service does not have a limit for the number of times children and young people can be diverted from the courts. We saw cases involving people who had committed several – and sometimes quite serious – offences, without being charged.

“Staff involved in making decisions about out-of-court cases did not have clear policies and guidance in place. They did not pay appropriate attention to the gravity of the offence, and looked at offences in isolation rather than as part of a wider pattern of behaviour.”

The Inspectorate found staff were motivated to deliver good-quality services and worked well with children and families. There were pockets of good practice to support children and young people to move away from further offending.

However, inspectors were not satisfied staff had the necessary skills and experience to address children or young people’s safety and wellbeing, or the potential risks they might pose to others. In more than half of the inspected cases involving children who had been given a court order, staff did not liaise with other agencies and align with their plans. Better coordination and information sharing could improve the way risks are identified and managed.

Inspectors found poor education and health services, two key areas which can support children and young people to turn away from crime.

Mr Russell said: “Every child is legally entitled to receive an education. The service is not doing enough to ensure this happens – almost 40 per cent of children subject to a court order are not receiving their entitlement. More than half of those in contact with the service have special education needs, yet the Board do not know if these needs are being met adequately. There is no specialist support for young people over 16 who are not in education, training or employment.

“We found health services were insufficient. There are long waits of up to 16 weeks for mental health appointments. The service does not offer any speech or language therapy, despite research showing strong links between speech, language and communication difficulties and offending.

The Inspectorate has made nine recommendations with the aim of improving the quality of Surrey Youth Offending Service’s work.



Notes to editor

  1. The report is available at on 22 August 2019 00.01.
  2. HM Inspectorate of Probation is the independent inspector of youth offending and probation services across England and Wales.
  3. Youth offending teams supervise 10-18-year olds who have been sentenced by a court, or who have come to the attention of the police because of their offending behaviour but have not been charged and instead are dealt with out of court.

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