Inspectorate finds changes required within Juvenile Justice Centre to meet future challenges
Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre has been praised by Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) for its role in improving the child custody system in Northern Ireland.
"Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre (the JJC) accommodates some of the most difficult and disturbed children in our society, and in doing so, prevents them from causing mayhem in their communities and in the residential care system," said Brendan McGuigan, Chief Inspector of Criminal Justice in Northern Ireland.
"Since autumn 2012 all children under 18 who are sent to custody are held at the JJC. This means that no child is held in adult custody in this jurisdiction.
"This is a significant achievement but the impact of older children being held within the JJC is testing the resilience of staff. It is also inappropriately used as a short term care facility for children who breach children's home rules, when parents/guardians refuse to accept them back home or on foot of Police and Criminal Evidence (PACE) proceedings,” said Mr McGuigan.
In order to successfully address these challenges, Inspectors have recommended the existing regime at the JJC should be redesigned to take account of the needs of older children including 17-year-olds, while maintaining its existing child-centred ethos.
And they have called for the Youth Justice Agency which operates the JJC to work with its statutory partners to reduce inappropriate use of the £9.3m a year facility.
"Inspectors accept that the JJC has and can provide stability in times of crisis, but committing a child to custody should be an action of last resort. Placements should not be based on expediency or - as in the case of PACE - more on proximity to the JJC rather than any other criterion," said Mr McGuigan.
The Chief Inspector said Inspectors had also recommended steps should be taken to improve current arrangements for children who do not have suitable bail addresses and those who refuse to perfect their personal bail by opting to remain in custody until accommodation of their choice becomes available.
The report revealed that while children continued to receive high levels of care and support within the JJC, education provision had slipped from ‘Good’ at the time of the last CJI inspection in 2011 to a 'Satisfactory' level as a result of sickness absence and unfilled vacancies.
"Education has always been at the heart of how the JJC operates but reductions in staffing levels have limited the curriculum and decreased the time that children can attend education.
“The changing age profile of children in the centre coupled with an inability of JJC teachers to access training provided by the Education and Library Boards, was found to be impacting on education provision.
“Inspectors have therefore recommended the JJC should examine alternative ways to deliver education," said Mr McGuigan.
The report also recommended steps be taken to improve the clinical leadership and governance for Healthcare staff in order to maintain and improve the quality of nursing at the Bangor facility.
“Inspectors recognise that JJC Healthcare staff had a good rapport with the children but gaps in their ability to access continuous professional development and mandatory training should be addressed, if necessary by outsourcing this requirement to a mainstream provider such as one of the Health and Social Care Trusts.
“The rehabilitation of serious or prolific child offenders is not easy, especially when budgets shrink and key services such as education and healthcare are not delivering to their optimum potential.
“Significant challenges lie ahead for the JJC. We believe maintaining strong leadership is essential to addressing these challenges and meet the needs of a changing population,” he concluded.