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Progress made on improving Cardiff ‘inadequate’ youth offending service

SIGNIFICANT progress has been made on improving Cardiff’s youth offending service which inspectors rated as ‘inadequate’ last year.

The Cardiff Youth Justice Service, set up in 1998, works with 10 to 17-year-olds to prevent anti-social behaviour, offending and reoffending. The team is made up of social workers, police, probation officers and staff from local health services.

Last July, a shocking report revealed that HMI Probation inspectors gave the service the worst possible rating: zero out of 36. The inspection, carried out in January last year, raised serious concerns about widespread problems.

Since then, the Youth Justice Service has been overhauled, with a new operational manager, staff training, and better working with partner organisations. Improvements were revealed to Cardiff council’s children and young people scrutiny committee, on March 15.

HMIP returned to the service last December for a brief visit, and gave “very positive feedback”. Inspectors are expected to carry out a full three-week inspection again this summer.

Speaking to the scrutiny committee, Councillor Graham Hinchey, cabinet member for children and families, said:

“The feedback from HMIP in December was very positive.

“HMIP recognised the progress that had been made against the original inspection, noting the clarity of governance, focus on the right priorities, and improved joint work between staff and the youth justice board. We’re very confident that progress will continue.

“The areas of focus will include closer working with the violence prevention unit, early help services, piloting constructive resettlement, embedding quality assurance processes, and monitoring out-of-court diversion work.”

One of the first steps taken to sort out the Youth Justice Service was hiring Graham Robb, an expert in youth offending, to chair a new board overseeing the work to improve the service. He said while progress has been made, more work still needs to be done.

Mr Robb said:

“We’re six months into a two-year programme. We have more work still to do on quality assurance and understanding workforce development.

“We’re getting to the point where this board is beginning to look a bit more business as usual. For the first six months, we were having to do an awful lot of basic construction work: there were some things we needed to change, things we needed quickly to happen.”

Four HMIP inspectors returned in December for a one-day visit, looking at the progress made on the action plan. The inspectors didn’t reach an overall judgement but sent a letter to council bosses which has not been published in full.

The letter noted progress had been made on governance, joint working, new management arrangements, improving staff morale, staff training, and better working with partners. The inspectors however said the Youth Justice Service still needed to focus on “quality of practice and quality assurance”.

Another major change was the council bringing in a new operational manager to lead the Youth Justice Service. Angharad Thomas started in the role in December, after extensive years of experience in youth justice working for Bridgend council.

Ms Thomas told the scrutiny committee that the service is focusing on planning and intervention, and linking with other agencies like the police and health service.

She said:

“We do act as soon as we can; as soon as we are informed of an offence we’ll put a plan in place for the young person. But there’s a lot of work still to be done on creating that plan with that young person, and creating that with the other services working with them, to make sure it all dovetails in correctly. Only then is intervention going to make a difference.

“But we’re still on that journey to getting those plans all working together. It’s going to be a real focus for us moving forward. It’s also about working with the individual to create their plan, so they’re working with us rather than feeling it’s being done to them. Then you have a much higher chance of success.

“They’re children first, and offenders second. The whole aim is to reintegrate them back into mainstream services or prevent them from coming into us in the first place. As much as we’re a multi-agency service, we can’t do that on our own. Everybody needs to understand that it’s everybody’s business, just like safeguarding, to keep these children out of the system.”

One problem shared by many young people who come into contact with the Youth Justice Service—as well as the adult prison population—is poor literacy and communication skills. Due to this, the council is bringing in a speech and language therapist to address the issue.

Deborah Driffield, director of children’s services, said:

“There’s a real high percentage of children involved in the youth justice service who have some sort of deficit around their communication. That really impacts on their ability to take part in their assessment, court hearings and all sorts of things.”

Ms Thomas added she wants speech and language training for all youth justice workers and said many of the young people in contact with the service “disguise their difficulties”. Speech training would help staff encourage children and young people to express themselves better.

She said:

“It’s so [staff] start to understand the real speech, language and communication needs of the group we’re working with. Our young people are very good at hiding what their difficulties are.

“They disguise their difficulties, and they know how to mirror words and feelings without actually understanding what you mean. So there’s some really good training that I’ve asked all staff members to complete.”

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