Black and mixed heritage boys receiving poor support from youth offending services

Inspectors have found “significant deficits” in the quality of work conducted by youth offending services and partner agencies with black and mixed heritage boys.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation reviewed a sample of cases from nine youth offending services across England, as well as inspection data gathered over a 12-month period. Inspectors spoke to senior leaders and youth justice workers, and worked with an agency to hear from some of the boys.

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: “There is a disproportionate number of black and mixed heritage boys in the youth justice system. Addressing this disparity has been a long-standing goal, but we found a lack of clarity and curiosity about why this disparity exists and what needs to be done to change it.

“Good intentions must translate to positive practice and real improvements across the country. More must be done to understand and meet these children’s needs earlier on, to prevent yet more black and mixed heritage boys from entering the criminal justice system further down the line.”

Youth offending services work with 10 to 18-year-olds who have offended or are at risk of offending. Some children have been sentenced by the courts, while others are being dealt with outside the formal court system.

Many of the black and mixed heritage boys in the inspected cases faced multiple disadvantages. Sixty per cent of those who had received a court sentence had been excluded from school; youth justice staff found it very challenging to find suitable educational alternatives for these boys.

Half of the boys in the inspected cases had faced racial discrimination in their life; a third had been victims of criminal exploitation and a quarter had a disability.

Mr Russell said: “Youth justice staff told us the majority of black and mixed heritage boys that they work with have multiple and complex needs, for example with education or emotional and mental health issues.

“Yet many of these children are only receiving support with these needs for the first time through the criminal justice system. This is simply unacceptable.

“We have to question why social services, education teams and other agencies are not intervening earlier. Why are these boys less likely to be referred to Early Help services or more likely to be excluded from school than their white peers?

“Youth justice workers are united in the view that the early detection of problems would have led to different outcomes for these children. Instead, these boys are acquiring criminal records that can have lifelong consequences.”

Inspectors found some practitioners had formed good relationships with the children they supervise and their parents/carers, but they did not always take the opportunity to delve deeper.

Mr Russell said: “We found some staff lacked the confidence to talk to the boys and their families about discrimination, culture, and the specific challenges they face because of their ethnicity.

“These topics are too important to push aside because they can have a direct bearing on a child’s behaviour and motivations as well as their life chances and opportunities.

“For example, some of the boys we heard from had been stopped and searched by police four or five times a week. These experiences affect how the boys interact with all parts of the criminal justice system – even those that are trying to offer support.”

Stop and search was found to be particularly common for black and mixed heritage boys in London. Some boys accepted racial profiling as a fact of life; others described how moving away from the capital had reduced the frequency of searches and improved their wellbeing. The Inspectorate recommends all forces publish stop and search rates by age and ethnicity.

The Inspectorate has made 18 recommendations to improve services for black and mixed heritage boys. The Inspectorate will also introduce a stronger set of standards for its routine inspections of youth offending services.


Notes to editor

  1. The report is available at on 21 October 2021 00.01.
  2. HM Inspectorate of Probation is the independent inspector of youth offending and probation services across England and Wales.
  3. This inspection focussed on black and mixed heritage boys. For the purposes of this report, we use the term “mixed heritage” to describe children who are of black and white ethnic backgrounds. We have focussed on black and mixed heritage boys in this inspection because they are over-represented in the youth justice system.
  4. We have used the terms “children” and boys” to refer to under-18s. This is consistent with the ‘child first’ approach to youth justice. We encourage the media to move away from terms such as ‘young offender’, which fails to recognise that many children are also victims.
  5. Fieldwork for this inspection took place in April to June 2021. Inspectors spoke to a wide range of staff and senior leaders, and look at 173 cases from nine youth offending services: Manchester, Lewisham, Nottingham, Haringey, Hackney, Leeds, Sheffield, Liverpool and Oxfordshire. The Inspectorate appointed an agency (User Voice) to seek the views of 38 black and mixed heritage boys. See Annexe 2 for the full methodology.
  6. In March 2021, the Inspectorate published a report on race equality in probation.
  7. For media enquiries, please contact Head of Communications Catherine Chan on 07889 405930 or (E-mail address)