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Statement On All Wales Youth Offending Strategy Group

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Jane Hutt, Minister for Health and Social Services
I am very glad to have this opportunity to make a statement on the work of the Youth Offending Strategy Group, and the responsibilities, which it undertakes on behalf of this Assembly.

Any child or young person who becomes involved in trouble with the law both faces and produces a series of difficulties.

While most of such behaviour is relatively trivial and transient, it does produce an immediate impact upon local communities and individuals.

It quite certainly has a direct impact upon the lives of the children themselves, and upon their families.  And, as many of you will know, children and young people who come to the attention of the police are, by a considerable majority, drawn from backgrounds where the basic ingredients of a law-abiding life – an education or a job, a decent home and someone to take a positive interest in you as an individual – are missing.

Repairing the damage which trouble brings has a double benefit – it helps prevent that damage from spreading further within the lives of individual children and, in doing so, it provides the single most powerful crime prevention strategy available to us.  Children and young people who go on to commit offences into adulthood pose a substantial risk of becoming involved in both an escalating number of crimes, and crimes of increasing seriousness.

Whatever we are able to do at this stage in their lives is an investment we make on behalf of the whole community, and the future safety of us all.

The Home Office and the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales have an important role to play in this effort.  They are responsible for all legislation, advice and guidance relating to the criminal justice aspects of this subject.  The Assembly however also has a vital interest from the perspective of giving young people the best possible start in life, and ensuring that they have a positive stake in society.  That is why, at this early stage in their lives, the Welsh Assembly Government’s approach is to see this as a problem of children who have become caught up in crime, rather than as one of criminals who happen to be children.  While criminal justice is not a subject devolved to the Assembly, social welfare, health, education, training and community regeneration do certainly come within our field of responsibilities and that is where our effort is best directed.

The Welsh Assembly Government has introduced an impressive variety of new initiatives aimed at improving the lives of the children and young people of Wales and ensuring access to a universal range of services. Service planning will be improved through establishment of local Children and Young People’s Partnerships.  Over the last 18 months the Assembly has consulted widely on “Extending Entitlement” which comes into effect in September this year and is designed to ensure that every young person in Wales aged 11-25 has access to a basic entitlement of services with support where necessary appropriate to their needs.  Some specialist needs are being met through the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services Strategy. From April 2003 Cymorth, a unified support fund, is to be introduced to bring together the existing programmes of Sure Start, the Children and Youth Partnership Fund, the National Childcare Strategy, the Youth Access Initiative and the Play Grant.

I have discussed the need for closer resonance between the Youth Justice Board and the Welsh Assembly Government initiatives with Lord Warner, Chair of the Youth Justice Board.  To accomplish this, we have jointly agreed on the establishment of an All Wales Youth Offending Strategy Group.  This has so far met on 9 January and 15 May this year, and has a combined membership of senior Assembly and Youth Justice Board officials, together with chief officer representation of all the relevant local agencies, as well as representatives of the judiciary, the Prison Service and the voluntary sector.   I am very grateful to all those who have agreed to serve on the Strategy Group and for the valuable contributions that have been made to date.

The All Wales Group has very specific Terms of Reference and I am confident that the Group can make rapid progress in achieving its objectives.  The Group will mainly be advising on the development of a potential Youth Offending Strategy for Wales and supporting and overseeing its implementation.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the Group has already emphasised the need for the strategy to address the diverse nature and complex needs of young offenders and those at risk of offending.  It has also highlighted the availability of services for young people as the key to any strategy which has a likelihood of success.

I expect the Strategy to be produced by the end of the current financial year. This is vitally important area, in which effective joint working both within the Assembly and amongst outside agencies will be essential.

The Strategy Group is also a valuable means of enabling discussion of issues of common interest to the Welsh Assembly Government, the Youth Justice Board and local agencies. The involvement of local Youth Offending Teams and the local authorities who support them is essential to the success of the Group and will remain so in any Strategy which emerges from it.

I will keep members informed of progress as the work of the Strategy Group develops.  The Assembly has the opportunity here to influence the Welsh youth crime prevention agenda, and to do so in a way which both protects the interests of the wider public and opens up more productive and worthwhile futures for the children and young people concerned.  I am determined that the Strategy will have a real impact in joining up policies and encouraging the development of a cross-cutting approach throughout Wales to the benefit of us all.