Putting children first, Wirral’s Youth Justice Service plans to get even better

A 12-month plan, that sets out how partners in Wirral will continue to improve the lives of children at risk of offending or re-offending, was approved last week.

At a full meeting of Wirral Council, the borough’s Youth Justice Strategic Plan 2021-22 received final approval.

A ‘Children First’ vision is at the heart of the plan; in recognising young people as children first and offenders second, the Youth Justice Service seeks to identify and work with children’s individual strengths and needs.

The aim is to bring about positive change, helping our children and young people contribute fully to society and live a brighter future.

Approval of the plan coincided with the publication of the findings of an inspection of youth offending services in Wirral by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation (HMIP) which found that overall the Youth Justice Service was rated as ‘good’, with some aspects rated as ‘outstanding’. The report also identifies where further improvements can be made.

The purpose of youth justice is to prevent offending and re-offending by children – and to tackle it effectively through a range of measures when it does occur

The plan for 2021-22 sets out how local youth justice services will be improved further, led by a multi-agency Youth Justice Management Board which incorporates key partners in the field; local authority, police, probation and health services.

Putting ‘children first’, the plan describes how youth justice interventions can be delivered through court directed work or to children, families, and groups through several preventative support initiatives.

Elizabeth Hartley, Assistant Director for Early Help and Prevention at Wirral Council, said, “It has been a pleasure to work with our new Youth Justice Management Board and Youth Justice Service in developing this strategic plan. I have truly been inspired by those practitioners and services who throughout the last year have kept the young person at the centre of their work, we have taken the opportunity to reflect on this within the plan.

“The priorities we have identified as part of this plan have been shaped by the challenges we know young people have faced during the pandemic, the importance of education in reducing offending and reoffending; and the value we place on prevention. We are also committed to developing our work with children and victims through enhanced engagement activity.

“It is an exciting time to be leading this growing partnership. Over the next 12 months we will continue to learn and develop, further improving our services for young people, victims, and families.”

The formation of the new Youth Justice Management Board and strategic changes to how youth justice services are co-ordinated in Wirral was acknowledged by HMIP as one of the ways it could see further improvements being achieved to build on the ‘good’ rating they found during the inspection.

The inspection found particular strengths of the service in Wirral were in the planning, implementation and delivery of cases whether they were being dealt with in court or out-of-court. The service has an excellent understanding of the factors that can help children to stop offending, the report concluded.

A feedback comment published in the report from a court representative said, “Wirral YJS staff are well-prepared and provide timely advice regarding their interactions with children and young people. Their knowledge of the disposals available makes a valuable contribution to the court process, and their expertise is appreciated by the legal advisers and justices at court.”

The inspection also noted positives in the facilities offered by the YJS at their multi-agency base at Solar Campus, how staff were managed, nurtured and encouraged to be creative and how children themselves responded positively to their engagement with staff and the service as a whole.

One comment noted in the inspection report from a child said, “My YJS worker has helped me over the years. I tell him a lot. He has supported me with going to court, being in a police station and drove to see me when I lived out of area. He texts me to check in and see how things are.”

The inspection report particularly singled out the use of Operation Inclusion – a Merseyside-wide out-of-court disposal policy to defer prosecution and avoid children becoming unnecessarily criminalised – for attention. Though this is a police-led initiative, the YJS attend various meetings to discuss this policy, share good practice and work with others across the region on options that meet the diverse needs of children and link these with the types of out-of-court disposals available.

Mr Russell concluded: ”Operation Inclusion appears to be an interesting and innovative policy, giving higher-risk children one last chance before going to court. Wirral YJS is clearly looking at all options available to avoid children acquiring a criminal record and give them every opportunity to move away from offending. We look forward to seeing the outcomes of these ideas, and how they develop in the future.”

HMIP did make a number of recommendations in the report that the service will take onboard, though the inspector did note that in a number of areas governance and organisational changes already implemented just needed time to be fully integrated; and would likely lead to those improvements.

Anthony Kirk, Head of Service, Contextual Safeguarding for Wirral Council, said, “Our Youth Justice Service are really passionate about their work with young people and families across Wirral, we are pleased that they have been recognised by the Inspectors in this way. We are also grateful to HMIP for the opportunity to develop our service even further, inspections such as this help us to continuously improve.

“It was especially pleasing that in some areas where scope for improvement was identified, we were recognised as already implementing changes through our Youth Justice Strategic Plan. We are confident we have the right leadership, and culture across our multi-agency partners to further enhance our services over the next 12 months.”

Image credit: fauxels

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