Terms of Reference published for Youth Interventions Inspection

Criminal Justice Inspection (CJI) has today published the Terms of Reference for its Inspection for the Youth Justice Agency’s (YJA’s) community-based interventions with children in Northern Ireland. 
This Inspection will build on previous work including CJI's Effectiveness of Youth Conferencing.   In addition, CJI has monitored progress on implementing recommendations arising from a 2011 Review of Youth Justice in Northern Ireland.

Anyone who would wish to contribute to the Inspection can contact Lead Inspector Dr Roisin Devlin on [email protected]

An Inspection of the Youth Justice Agency: Youth Interventions
Terms of Reference
Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland (CJI) proposes to undertake an inspection of the Youth Justice Agency’s (YJA’s) community-based interventions with children in Northern Ireland. 
The inspection will focus on the YJA Youth Justice Services (YJS), which delivers community-based interventions and services.  Where it is necessary to assess the delivery of youth interventions, the interface between the YJA and its criminal justice partners will be considered, namely, the Police Service of Northern Ireland (Police Service), the Public Prosecution Service for Northern Ireland (PPS), the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service (NICTS) and the Probation Board for Northern Ireland (PBNI).  The inspection will consider the role of the Department of Justice (DoJ) in the development of relevant policy or legislation where appropriate.
The relevant human rights framework, in particular, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the Committee on the Rights of the Child General Comment No. 24 on children’s rights in the child justice system[1] will inform the inspection.  The latter sets out guidance for States in implementing a child justice system that promotes and protects children’s rights including key strategies to reduce the harmful effects of contact with the criminal justice system.  Community-based interventions that divert children away from the formal system, as well as those provided in the context of judicial proceedings are covered. 
This will be CJI’s first inspection of the range of community-based interventions delivered by the YJA. Previous inspections relevant to this area have included Early Youth Interventions[2] and the Effectiveness of Youth Conferencing [3].  In addition, CJI has monitored progress on implementing recommendations arising from a 2011 Review of Youth Justice in Northern Ireland[4].  

The 2011 Youth Justice Review (‘the Review’) recommendations remain relevant to the delivery of non-custodial interventions.  Research commissioned jointly by the Children’s Law Centre, Include Youth, NIACRO and Voice Of Young People in Care (VOYPIC) reported that by 2021, the Review recommendations had been only partially implemented with some not taken forward at all.  Among the issues highlighted were gaps in data to show how outcomes for children as a result of interventions had been meaningfully assessed.[5] 
A series of recommendations relating to the development of strategy for youth justice policy, services and interventions, performance indicators, assessment of cost effectiveness, and the recording of interventions by the YJA had also been made by the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO)[6].  In 2020, the NIAO reported that the DoJ and YJA had made progress towards implementing its recommendations.  However, areas for improvement remained and the YJA was urged to ‘…continue to develop its performance reporting regime with greater focus on the impact of its work with children and families, in line with the principles of OBA’ (Outcomes Based Accountability)[7].  
The YJA is responsible for custodial and non-custodial services for children and young people in Northern Ireland. Custodial services are provided at Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre.
The YJS supervises a range of non-custodial disposals including diversionary and court-ordered Youth Conferences, and Community Orders such as attendance centre orders, community responsibility orders and reparation orders[8].  Early Stage Diversion (ESD) is also part of YJS work.  ESD is described as ‘support to children on the cusp of or involved in the early stages of offending to help divert them from the formal criminal justice system.’ [9] 
Available data shows how YJA’s community-based work has changed over time[10].  Five-year trends show a slight overall increase in the proportion of ‘diversionary referrals,’ (41.9% in 2017/18 to 45.3% in 2021/22), while the proportion of court-ordered referrals has decreased overall (from 34% in 2017/18 to 25.5% in 2021/22).  The proportion of ESD referrals had more than doubled in the same period from 8.6% to 21%.
An important development also relevant to any consideration of YJA’s work is its new Model of Practice.  It’s overarching ‘Children First’ approach aims to better reflect a focus on achieving outcomes for children, families, and victims, and is applicable to the YJS in its delivery of community-based interventions[11].
Aims of the Inspection
The broad aims of the Inspection are to:
  • review the effectiveness of strategy, governance and leadership in supporting the delivery of quality community-based interventions;
  • outline the range and type of community-based interventions delivered by the YJA YJS and examine their use and resource utilisation over time;
  • assess the quality of youth interventions delivered by the YJS; and
  • examine the ways in which YJA measures and reports on the quality, and the impact of YJS interventions on children, families and victims, including any reoffending related measures and feedback sought from service users and community groups involved in delivering services.
An inspection framework tailored to the assessment of YJA community-based interventions will be developed as part of the inspection and provide the criteria against which the quality of YJS interventions will be assessed.  The framework will be shared with YJA and published as part of the inspection.
The inspection will be based on the CJI Inspection Framework for each inspection that it conducts. The three main elements of the inspection framework are:
  • Strategy and governance;
  • Delivery; and
  • Outcomes.
Constants in each of the three framework elements and throughout each inspection are equality and fairness, together with standards and best practice.  The CJI inspection methodology can be found at www.cjini.org
Given the importance and prevalence of reviews already undertaken at a strategic level in the area of youth justice, CJI will adopt a targeted approach to the examination of strategy and governance for this inspection.  This means that areas of strategy and governance will be examined according to key lines of enquiry that emerge from Inspectors’ assessment of the quality of the delivery of YJS interventions.
Design and Planning
Preliminary research
Data and initial information have been reviewed in order to inform the scope of the inspection.  CJI has also undertaken early scoping discussions with academic, statutory and voluntary sector organisations, as well as with the YJA.  A number of children either currently or previously involved with YJS, and the YJA parents and carers group members also met with Inspectors to inform the planning of the inspection. 
To assist in the development of an inspection framework, CJI has liaised with His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation (HMI Probation) to learn more about its approach when inspecting Youth Offending Teams in England and Wales.   
Benchmarking, research and data collection
Collection of benchmarking information and data, where available, from other jurisdictions and sectors in Northern Ireland and a review of inspection and research reports will be undertaken. 
Contact with agency (ies)
Terms of reference will be prepared and shared with the YJA prior to the commencement of the inspection.  A copy will also be provided to the Department of Justice, the Police Service, the PPS, the NICTS and the PBNI.  Liaison officers from the organisation should be nominated.
Policies and procedures, management information, accounting information, minutes of meetings and related documentation from the YJA will be requested and reviewed.  Where relevant, CJI may also request documentation from the other criminal justice organisations named in the terms of reference and the Department of Justice.
Stakeholder consultation
CJI will undertake consultation with stakeholder organisations advocating for and supporting children in the context of youth justice including those engaging with the YJA.
The YJA will be asked to undertake a self-assessment for the inspection, which will be reviewed by CJI prior to the commencement of fieldwork.
Development of fieldwork plan
CJI will liaise closely with the YJA and where applicable other criminal justice organisations in the development and scheduling of fieldwork.
The fieldwork plan will include:
  • meetings with staff and managers in the YJA YJS;
  • meetings with community organisations involved in delivering services on behalf of YJS;
  • the completion of case reviews to assess the impact of YJS interventions work on children, families and victims;
  • observation of Youth Conferences will be considered;
  • meetings with children, families and victims about their experience of YJS interventions where appropriate and where they are supported through the YJA or a voluntary organisation; and
  • meetings with key staff in other criminal justice organisations and the DoJ where necessary to assess the quality of YJS interventions.
 Initial feedback to agency
On conclusion of the fieldwork the evidence will be collated, triangulated and analysed and emerging recommendations will be developed.  CJI will then present the findings to appropriate organisations.
Drafting of report
Following completion of the fieldwork and analysis of data a draft report will be shared with the inspected bodies for factual accuracy check.  The Chief Inspector will invite the inspected bodies to complete an action plan within six weeks to address the recommendations and if the plan has been agreed and is available it will be published as part of the final inspection report.  The inspection report will be shared, under embargo, in advance of the publication date with the inspected bodies.
Publication and Closure
A report will be sent to the Minister of Justice, or in their absence the Department of Justice Permanent Secretary, for permission to publish.  When permission is received the report will be finalised for publication.  A press release will be drafted and shared with the inspected agencies prior to publication and release.  A publication date will be agreed and the report will be issued.
Indicative Timetable
  • Scoping/Research: January to April 2023
  • Stakeholder consultation: May / June 2023
  • Development of inspection framework: May / June 2023
  • Agency fieldwork: June to September 2023
  • Draft Report to agencies: November 2023
  • Factual accuracy feedback received: December 2023  
The above timetable may be impacted by factors outside CJI’s control.  The inspected organisations will be kept advised of any significant changes to the indicative timetable.

[1] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 24 (2019) on children’s rights in the child justice system, 18 September 2019 available at https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G19/275/57/PDF/G1927557.pdf?OpenElement
[2] CJI, Early Youth Interventions: An inspection of the contribution the criminal justice agencies in Northern Ireland make to preventing children and young people from entering the criminal justice system, July 2012 available at https://www.cjini.org/TheInspections/Inspection-Reports/2012/July---September/Early-Youth-Interventions.
[3] CJI, The Effectiveness of Youth Conferencing, March 2015 available at https://www.cjini.org/TheInspections/Inspection-Reports/2015/January---March/The-effectiveness-of-youth-conferencing. See also CJI, The Effectiveness of Youth Conferencing: A Follow-Up Review, April 2019 available at https://www.cjini.org/TheInspections/Action-Plan-Reviews-Inspection-Follow-Up-Revie/2019/April-June/Youth-Conferencing-1.
[5] Carr, N & McAlister, S,  Tracing the Review: Developments in Youth Justice in Northern Ireland 2011-2021, May 2021 available at https://pureadmin.qub.ac.uk/ws/portalfiles/portal/263877347/TRACING_THE_REVIEW_PDF.pdf.
[8] See the ‘definitions’ in NISRA, Northern Ireland Youth Justice Agency Annual Workload Statistics 2021/22, T. Brown, September 2022 available at https://www.justice-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/justice/youth%20justice%20agency%20workload%20stats%20bulletin%202021-22.pdf.
[9] ESD is defined as ‘support to children on the cusp of or involved in the early stages of offending to help divert them from the formal criminal justice system’ (see YJA Workload statistics as above, page 7).
[10] As above.
[11] YJA, Positive and Progressive Youth Justice: Children First, Youth Justice Agency Model of Practice, available at https://www.justice-ni.gov.uk/sites/default/files/publications/justice/yja-model-of-practice-final.pdf.