The end of the Respect Taskforce may herald moves to use a less punitive approach to dealing with antisocial behaviour, finds Herpreet Kaur Grewal.

Herpreet Kaur Grewal

At the start of this month, the Government wound up the Respect Taskforce. Its work will be taken up by a new Youth Taskforce in the Department for Children, Schools and Families (DCSF). The news was accompanied by the announcement of £18 million over three years to sustain the network of 53 Family Intervention Projects designed to support “antisocial” families. The Anti-Social Behaviour Unit remains in the Home Office and its remit will still focus on social problems caused by drugs and alcohol, while the Youth Taskforce will work to prevent young people from going off the rails.

The DCSF says the new taskforce will focus on “delivering positive outcomes for young people, including steps to prevent them from getting into trouble and encouraging them to have respect for their community”. Practitioners largely agree that the move will take the punitive edge off the Government’s drive to tackle antisocial behaviour.

The news follows education secretary Ed Balls’s recent announcement that every antisocial behaviour order handed out represented a “failure” (R&R, 3 August, p3). This signalled a move away from one of the flagship policies of Tony Blair’s government towards a more benign approach towards young people under Gordon Brown’s leadership.

Will McMahon, policy director at think-tank the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies, says the developments indicate that the Government is widening and softening its approach to tackling antisocial behaviour. “The Respect strategy was based around hectoring people,” he says. “The Government seem to have worked out that they had trapped themselves by having a campaign around ‘respect’ which was based on dubious evidence.”

One youth practitioner and member of the Association of Youth Offending Team Managers, who does not wish to be named, says the Respect campaign had little impact on local work. But she says it caused her “extreme concern” because of the risk that it would encourage public bodies to think that the way to deal with troubled children was to go down a “more punitive route”.

She adds that the campaign was based on people “wanting instant results” when sustainable progress was often achieved by deploying resources “steadily, persistently over a period of time”. It also fed young people’s fears that the negative stereotyping would have a “divisive” effect on their relationship with older people, she says.

McMahon adds that the Government has had “a think about the way it is relating to young people” and is now going back to thinking about how to communicate and work with young people, rather than demonise them.