We spoke with Mica Aspinwall, project manager within Lancashire Child and Youth Justice Service about their Child-First Diversion Pathfinder, its evaluation and how they used the Centre's cost avoidance tool to demonstrate the benefits of diversion.
How did Lancashire Youth Justice Service become a Pathfinder site?
Our diversion service was established in October 2019 and was running for about a year when the Youth Justice Board (YJB) asked us to do a segment during their YJB live event in November 2020. Shortly afterwards we were awarded Pathfinder Status for our Child-First Diversion service by the YJB. The YJB Strategic plan 2021-24 reaffirmed Child-First as the central guiding principle for Child and Youth Justice Services. However, there was an absence of national guidance around diversion which means there can be varied practices across the country. The Pathfinder in Lancashire sought to build the evidence base around what works in practice and a need to highlight and promote innovative and informed diversion services.
Can you tell us all about Lancashire’s Pathfinder and the evaluation?
The Pathfinder began in 2020 and I was recruited as a Project Manager in April 2021. The main components were to develop resources for the YJB hub, evaluate the service with the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), and support dissemination events on a regional and national level.
The evaluation with UCLan started around the beginning of 2021 and was split into four different stages. The main thing we wanted out of the evaluation was for it to be co-produced with children rather than just being another academic study. We wanted it to be in-depth and come from the children themselves. We agreed with UCLan to establish a core group of children who were asked if they wanted to partake and have been supporting the evaluation ever since. We involved the core group at every stage, they acted as consultants for the research and contributed to the research methodology which has just been great to see! We also did walking tours with the core group of children. They took one of their workers and a researcher from UCLan around the area they lived, which added context to what is important to them and the barriers and challenges they face. We also got some feedback from parents and carers, and we also had a victim interview in which they gave their thoughts around diversion and the service being offered in Lancashire. Our screening tool was also analysed.
How does your screening tool work?
When a child is referred into our service, we complete a screening to decide whether children need support and which service is best placed to deliver this. We look at what services are already working with that child and what level of support they need i.e. Do they need specialist youth justice intervention or are there existing services and established relationships that would be better placed to offer this support? As this is different from other services across the country, we were especially keen to have this tool evaluated. As it is not a screening tool with quantitative outcome measures but relies on professional judgement, we spoke to staff involved in each stage of the screening process from CYJS workers to social workers, to police offers, to managers, to get a real understanding and evaluate how the tool is working in practice. We analysed this alongside first-time entrant rates split by the outcome of the screening.
What was the most interesting finding from the evaluation?
By evaluating the screening tool, we found that as long as you have that key relationship with the child that is what makes the difference. It was found that there was no statistically significant difference between first-time entrance rates, for children that received Child and Youth Justice Service interventions versus those that were screened, and it was decided that another service was better placed to support them. This was further emphasised during the interviews with the children as the vast majority mentioned that their relationship with their workers was the most important component for change. Many spoke about their workers supporting them to be able to realise things they were doing themselves and that it’s not about a specific part of an intervention but more about them just being able to reflect and get to know themselves a bit more and being helped to do so by a worker. Some even spoke about wanting to keep in touch with them after they finished with their order!
How did you come across the Centre’s cost avoidance tool?
Not long after I started, I attended a talk whereby the tool was mentioned. I arranged a meeting with the Centre and got a better understanding of the tool and asked about other services that were using it. I spoke to Cheshire YJS and made sure to take on board their learning from when they first implemented it. I also made sure that as a service we had all the data collection in place that was needed to complete it before we started working on it.
How did you go about implementing the cost avoidance tool?
I met with the Head of the Criminal Justice Unit within Lancashire Constabulary and showed them the tool and set out my plan. I then asked if our police colleagues could support creating it. If you involve partners from the beginning, then they are more likely to buy into the findings of the tool once complete. After meeting with one of the Constabulary Inspectors and two of our seconded police officers, over the next few months we collected the 'time spent from a total of 10 police files that were diverted. These were collated and we calculated the mean to input into the 'Police time saved' cell. We then spoke to social workers and team managers to calculate the Child and Youth Justice Service 'time saved' and found that there isn’t a statistically significant difference between them. Thus, we agreed that we would put our time saved at 0 as a baseline. We were already collating the other pieces of data necessary so by using our Case Management System and existing spreadsheets we were able to input this and complete the calculations to produce the total 'cost effectiveness' of our diversion service.
How did you accommodate the tool to fit your service?
Once the tool was finalised, further discussions illustrated that it would be good to make it more 'user-friendly.' Therefore, I added a tab on the spreadsheet, as a preface, that explains the other tabs in an accessible manner. I also completed a 'step-by-step guide' for the tool which is now on the YJB resources hub. Since then, I met again with the Head of Criminal Justice to discuss which forums we could present the completed tool and where it would have the most impact. We have already presented it to our youth justice management board. Regarding the next steps, we are currently looking at how we are going to review it and update it. It is something that we intend to do annually so that it can be used in a variety of meetings to evidence the impact of Diversion.
What advice would you give to other services interested in using the Centre’s cost avoidance tool?
Before deciding to complete the tool, spend some time looking at the spreadsheet and identifying what gaps there are in the data you currently collect. You can then decide whether to collate this for 1 year first, or, go back retrospectively to collect this data for the previous year. Another tip would be, in the beginning, to think, ‘Who could this influence once completed?’ and involve them from the outset rather than spending time completing it and then thinking - ‘What do we do with it now?’
What lies ahead for Lancashire’s diversion service now that the Pathfinder has finished?
I am staying as a Project Manager within Lancashire's Child and Youth Justice Service supporting a variety of developments. One example is that we are completing a further evaluation with UCLan, Pan-Lancashire, of our Prevention service, building on the successful diversion model. The final report for the Child-First Diversion Pathfinder evaluation will also be released on the hub soon but you can find the interim report on the hub which you can find here and you can also email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.