Stockport youth justice service told it must improve work with children at risk of exploitation by watchdog

A new report by the probation inspectorate has raised concerns about how the service, which is part of the council, works with vulnerable youngsters and through those who have already got in trouble with the law.

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

The youth justice service in Stockport must improve the way it supports children at risk of exploitation, a watchdog has said.

A new report by HMI Probation, part of the criminal justice inspectorates, says the organisation, which sits within the council’s children’s services directorate, also needs to work better with children who have been through the court system – particularly in terms of supporting their safety and wellbeing.

The service has been praised for its ‘commendable efforts’ during the pandemic, while staff were said to do ‘all they can to encourage good engagement and compliance’ from children under their supervision. But it has been rated as ‘requires improvement’ overall, with officials also raising concerns that too many youngsters are being excluded from school – and urging bosses to reverse the trend.

What did the watchdog say about the youth justice service?

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: “Despite the overall rating of ‘Requires Improvement’, we did see positive work with children who have been involved in crime in Stockport and efforts to deter them from committing further offences.

“However, they must improve how they manage children at risk of exploitation and those not attending full-time education.”

Despite these concerts, the service is said to have ‘high quality prevention and diversion programmes’ in place as well as good health provision, including a medical screening for each child.

The inspection, which took place in July, looked at the quality of the work done with children sentenced by the courts and those serving cautions or community sentences. It also ran the rule over organisational ‘standards’ including leadership and staffing.

The watchdog separately inspected the quality of resettlement – arrangements for when children are released from custody – which was rated as ‘Good’. The borough’s Youth Justice Partnership Board is represented by senior partners from a number of agencies and chaired by the council’s director of children’s services.

What did the inspectors find?

The partnership work was described as ‘a strength’ by inspectors. But they also found arrangements for managing children at risk of exploitation could more effectively utilise the skills and expertise of youth justice service (YJS) practitioners at an earlier stage. The report says: “Too many YJS children are excluded from school. The partnership needs to ensure all children can access education provision.” Inspectors also found the quality of statutory court work needs to be improved.

“Although multi-agency information was shared with case managers, it was not evident that this was used consistently to inform and support safety assessments for children,” the report adds.

“Assessments lacked analysis and case managers did not always consider the external measures that could be put in place to support the safety of children.” However, out-of-court work, for those who had not been sentenced to jail , was said to be ‘stronger’. Officials noted: “Planning to address children’s safety and wellbeing was supported by multi-agency work with the child exploitation team (Aspire) and children’s social care. There was good coordination with the YJS health and wellbeing team to provide screenings and direct interventions when needed.”

What has Stockport Council said?

Coun Wendy Meikle, cabinet member for children, families and education at Stockport Council, acknowledged that while inspectors found ‘much to praise’, the overall rating was ‘Requires Improvement’.

She said: “HMIP praised the high quality prevention and diversion offer, the strong focus and commitment to diversity and disproportionality, and the Youth Justice Partnership responses that have made a significant difference for children working with the youth justice service.

“They also noted the positive feedback from the children and their parents/carers who took the time to independently speak with the Inspectors.

“The report makes seven recommendations for improvement and we will embrace this opportunity to further improve our services. These recommendations will form the basis for an action plan to ensure that improvements are driven forward with pace and rigour.”

Related topics: