ARE REQUIREMENTS IN ASB TOOLS EVER POSITIVE?

There has been much recent conversation about the value of being able to include positive requirements within injunctions and criminal behaviour orders (CBOs). For many, they appear a classic example of something that sounds great in theory but problematic when trying to transfer to practice.

The varying concerns of practitioners can largely be grouped into two categories: a lack of resource and an inability to engage support providers.

Lack of resource

It is fair to say that over the last 15 years we have witnessed a period of significant austerity. Public sector budgets have been slashed to the extent that councils and police forces now look unrecognisable to what they did before. Because of the need to protect statutory services like adult and children services, the “nice to haves” such as early help provision are sacrificed when money is tight.

Sadly, as ASB and community safety practitioners we know that these services are often just as important, allowing us to intervene earlier and bring longer-term, more therapeutic based solutions for perpetrators, which in turn presents the best possible outcomes for the victims.

When we manage ASB cases we often see that the perpetrators of the problem behaviour have their own needs and vulnerabilities. We know that a failure to support and address these will mean that there is little chance of a long-term, sustainable change in behaviour, and any action we take is little more than a sticky plaster.

Unfortunately, the types of services bringing the necessary support are those that no longer exist. The frustration is real when we recognise a need and yet don’t have the ability to be able to plug it. Very often, we see the value of being able to include a positive requirement or two within a court order but simply do not have the resource or local services necessary to make them happen.

Engaging support services

Sadly, the above issue is not where the story ends. Even where the support services that the practitioners identifies as being appropriate exist, it can be a struggle to get the service to agree to be part of the solution that is being posed.

There appears to be several reasons for this resistance. The first is the view that a client must be ready to accept support and that it cannot be successful unless it is agreed to on a voluntary basis. This, of course, contradicts the point of positive requirements, which are designed to mandate the acceptance of support.

A further issue arises in that the fundamental basis of client/professional relationship is confidentiality. The ASB, Crime and Policing Act states that there must be a supervisor for every positive requirement that is requested in an order, with this person or organisation being responsible for promoting compliance and informing the applicant of any breaches etc. A concern of the support provider is often that this responsibility is at odds with the basic principle of client confidentiality and may make the client unwilling to work with the organisation.

There is an additional concern that supporting legal applications in this way is supporting a process that leads to someone being criminalised

What we can do

With an increasing number of ASB cases involving individuals with complex needs, the wish to use positive requirements increases. In addition, the recent work of the civil justice council identified the limited inclusion of positive requirements in applications for injunctions, focussing the Courts mind back on their purpose and expectation around use.

At a recent Midlands ASB forum, we discussed this issue, inviting Kirsty Varley (Partner at Forbes Solicitors) and Jon Bull (manager of DECCA, Sandwell’s young person’s drug and alcohol service) to share their thoughts about how we might overcome some of the above challenges.

The following advice and suggestions were shared:

  • Remember that support services may not understand our language. Whilst as ASB practitioners we understand that injunctions are not about criminalising people, rather often the final stage of intervention, our colleagues working in support services probably do not know the legislation or purpose of the tools. By explaining this to them, we can help them to see the benefits that these orders bring, both for their client and their service, where the objectives that they are seeking can also be addressed within the order
  • To follow the above point, it is important that support services see the overall (and shared) objectives. For example, the ASB practitioner is probably seeking to include positive requirements to reduce the risk of criminalisation or homelessness. These are the same priorities that the support services have; making this clear that aims are shared can go a long way to securing their support
  • Jon advises reaching out to your support services and starting the conversation now, building the relationships and shared understanding before you have a specific case that needs discussing. This means that where there is a case that requires discussion about provision of positive requirements, much of the groundwork is already done to get them on board and there are no unnecessary delays.
  • Both Kirsty and Jon made reference to the benefits of looking beyond statutory services for provision of support. There will be many voluntary sector organisations within local areas that may be able to provide the types of support that are required. A suggestion was made to map local services now so that you have an understanding of what is available and are not desperately searching for something when in the midst of managing a difficult ASB case.
  • There was also a conversation about including support services at an earlier stage, such as where an acceptable behaviour contract (ABC) is being prepared. Where support services have been part of the case since its infancy, where it does escalate to a stage where more formal intervention is required they are more likely to understand and support the reasons why it is seen as necessary and proportionate
  • With regards to client confidentiality, support workers will understand that there are limits to how far this confidentiality can stretch. Clients will be aware that there are limitations to this principle, such as where the client discloses something that relates to criminal offending or behaviour that places the client or others at risk of harm. Providing information about whether a positive requirement has been complied with sits squarely within this principle and asks no more of a support worker than what they are already working within.

The future

So much of the above rests on raising awareness and agreeing shared objectives with our support colleagues. The Midlands ASB forum will be running a workshop in early 2022, attended by community safety partners, housing practitioners and support services (statutory and voluntary), to start some of this conversation. The outcome of this work will be shared for the benefit of other regions. As chair of this forum, you can contact me here for more information

You may also find a publication by Alcohol Concern of use. Published back in 2018, it talks about the benefits of using positive requirements. This can be a really helpful starting point for developing relationships with support providers, particularly as it was written by a support provider. It can be found here

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