Council lays out improvement plan for Youth Justice Service

In May a government inspector found several areas where the YJS was inadequately serving children and young people in the borough, reports Sebastian Mann, Local Democracy Reporter

Main image credit: Katarzyna Bialasiewicz via Canva

Waltham Forest Council has laid out its plan to improve after areas of its Youth Justice Service (YJS) were found to be “inconsistent and insufficient”.

The service was criticised in a May report by the government’s Inspectorate of Probation, which investigated how it manages children serving court and community sentences and its leadership.

Criticism was focused on how well interventions were tailored to children’s needs, a lack of understanding from staff going through ‘bitesize’ training, and an absence of analysis in its assessments of how to keep children safe.

Kizzy Gardiner, cabinet member for children and young people, previously said the outcome of the inspection was “disappointing” and the service would be restructured.

Over the next year, Waltham Forest will implement a series of changes across a range of areas.

The frequency of home visits was criticised by the inspectorate, with the council now committing to making them standard practice and ensuring high-risk cases are visited once a month.

It will also improve training, carry out monthly audits, and seek input from the police after interventions were said to often not be “sufficiently tailored or focused to the child’s needs”.

Waltham Forest’s Youth Justice Service is responsible for the prevention of crime and antisocial behaviour by children and young people in the borough. Its primary aim as an institution is to reduce the level of offending and reoffending by children between ten and 18 years old.

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The council was told to ensure it presented “high-quality and timely” assessments to decision-making panels, see all children at an “appropriate venue” if their home is not an option, and make sure the service learnt from reviews of serious incidents.

During the inspection, staff were found to not always “fully understand” their training due to an “overreliance” on a ‘bitesize’ approach, while high sickness rates further impacted the service.

All mandatory training is now delivered face-to-face, according to a report put before the council’s children and families scrutiny committee on Thursday (13th June).

The authority says it will monitor its training going forward, laying out “clear expectations of attendance and engagement,” and prioritise face-to-face training “wherever possible”.

While Waltham Forest was criticised for an “overreliance” on bitesize training, it now says it will only use smaller training sessions as refreshers. It would also look into training staff in a “variety of ways” in order to meet learning needs.

However, chief inspector Martin Jones did commend council staff for “showing a genuine desire to listen to voices of children”.

In a previous statement to the Echo, Cllr Gardiner said: “It is important to note that neither HMIP nor the external auditors have identified any immediate safeguarding risks to children. However, we do not hide away from the fact that there is work to be done to improve.

“Alongside our partners in the police, the NHS, and local education providers we are determined to learn the lessons from this inspection and make the improvements that are needed to provide local families with the service they expect and deserve.”

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