Wednesday, 2 May 2012

The Star Thrower - Guest slot, Diz Minnitt, Operational Manager, Milton Keynes Youth Offending Team

“A man was walking along the beach when he saw a girl picking up starfish and carefully throwing them into the sea. He called to her ‘Why are you throwing starfish into the sea?’. The girl paused and said ‘The tide is going out; if I don't throw them in they'll die.’ The man said ‘But there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it. You can't possibly make a difference!’

The girl listened politely, bent down, picked up another starfish and threw it into the sea, beyond the breaking waves. "It made a difference for that one!"

David felt like a permanent fixture in Court. By December 2010 he had been sentenced 13 times for 38 offences including burglary.

He had a diagnosis of Conduct Disorder and struggled in or truanted from his numerous schools despite a Statement of SEN. He had not had a speech and language therapy assessment so in 2009 the Youth Offending Team (YOT) arranged one. It identified David’s ‘severe language and comprehension difficulties’, particularly his inability to understand and use verbal information (essential for consequential thinking skills) which was at the level of a six year old.

Everything changed, the YOT worked differently with David and he made progress. The SLT Assessment was shared with his college, support was put in place, and David started and stayed on a motor mechanics course. His offending reduced so by Spring 2011 he had completed all his Court Orders.

However, David still had to appear in a Crown Court Trial for a burglary offence he had committed when he was fifteen years old. The defence solicitor was granted the use of an Intermediary to support David in the Trial.

David was found guilty and the Judge directed that the Pre-Sentence Report (PSR) should address a custodial sentence of between 18 months and 4 years as the ‘only option’. However, the PSR included full details of the SLT Assessment and proposed to the Court a community sentence. This was the lynchpin in determining David’s immediate future.
David was sentenced to a community sentence of an 18-month Youth Rehabilitation Order allowing the effective work with him to continue, and he has fully complied. With the exception of a minor offence of possession of cannabis for which he received a Conditional Discharge David has not offended since December 2010.

The Speech and Language Assessment provided a turning point. David’s complex needs were recognised and better understood and the work to help him change his behaviour became effective. This change of approach by the YOT and education staff helped him to make the important move away from a pattern of persistent reoffending with its associated cost to the community and impact on victims, into training with the real potential for employment and a more positive offence-free future. Whilst locking David up would have been a defensible option given his history of offending, I am in little doubt, and the statistics bear this out, that the longer term financial cost and human cost to future victims would have far outweighed any short term gains.

It made a difference for that one.

Diz Minnitt is Operational Manager Milton Keynes Youth Offending Team (YOT)
Association of YOT Managers Speech and Language Lead

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