Official Report: Minutes of Evidence

Committee for Justice , meeting on Thursday, 21 May 2015

Members present for all or part of the proceedings:

Mr A Ross (Chairperson)
Mr Raymond McCartney (Deputy Chairperson)
Mr S Douglas
Mr Tom Elliott
Mr Paul Frew
Mr Seán Lynch
Mr Patsy McGlone
Mr A Maginness


Ms Kiera Lloyd, Department of Justice
Ms Mary Aughey, Youth Justice Agency
Mr Declan McGeown, Youth Justice Agency
Mr Phil Tooze, Youth Justice Agency

Review of Community and Custodial Sentencing for Children: DOJ and Youth Justice Agency

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): I welcome Declan, Phil, Mary and Kiera. Maybe you would introduce yourselves very quickly for Hansard, and then whoever wants to lead off can do so. I will open it up for questions afterwards.

Mr Phil Tooze (Youth Justice Agency): I am the director of Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre.

Mr Declan McGeown (Youth Justice Agency): I am the chief executive of the Youth Justice Agency.

Ms Kiera Lloyd (Department of Justice): I am head of the reducing offending policy unit at the Department of Justice.

Ms Mary Aughey (Youth Justice Agency): I am director of youth justice services.

Mr McGeown: Thank you, Chair. We are grateful to have the opportunity to brief the Committee on the Minister's plan for a scoping study on youth justice, which will also incorporate the issue of custodial arrangements for children. I know that you received a written briefing note in advance of today's meeting and will have heard or read the Minister's statement on Tuesday, so I do not intend to make these introductory comments very long, as you will be familiar with the background to the announcement. My intention this afternoon is simply to provide some further detail on how this work will be taken forward.

Following a public consultation on the custodial sentencing framework and approval by the Justice Committee to proceed with proposals, the Department began to identify the necessary changes to legislation to establish the proposed new arrangements. This included the permanent removal of children from Hydebank Wood and the creation of revised custodial arrangements for under-18s. What became clear from this process was the extent and complexity of the legislative changes which would be required to underpin a principle that would not result in any material improvement for the majority of children who come into contact with the justice system.

Administrative arrangements have meant that no young person who is under the age of 18 has been held in Hydebank Wood since November 2012. You will have heard the Minister give a firm commitment that this will continue to be the case. Whilst there is still a need to introduce legislative provision to remove under-18s from Hydebank, our aim is to do this in a way which improves and simplifies the current system, rather than merely adding to its complexity. For this reason, members will be aware that the decision was made last November to pause the introduction of the proposed legislation and instead consider a larger scoping study, which would consider the wider field of youth justice and allow us to put in place an innovative agenda for action which will make a real difference to the lives of children.

The overall aim of this exercise will be to consider the structure and delivery of the youth justice system and how efficiently it addresses the many and complex needs of the children who come into contact with it. The exercise will look at three interrelated strands. First, we will take a radical look at the sentencing framework with a view to simplifying and streamlining it. Secondly, we will consider the overuse of the juvenile justice centre at Woodlands for non-sentenced children. Thirdly, the scoping study will encompass early engagement, specifically the way the system organises itself to respond to the needs of young people on the verge of offending behaviour. Providing early support to these children is vital in helping them to alter their life course, as research shows that, once a child has entered the formal justice system, it is very difficult to get out of it. In fact, we have already anticipated the need for a scoping study to address this issue and have made a successful approach through the early intervention transformation programme for £450,000 of funding over the next three years to pilot an innovative early intervention project, which will enable the Youth Justice Agency to deliver meaningful interventions and wrap-around support for children to prevent further offending behaviour.

I will chair the steering group which will oversee all this work. This steering group will have representations at senior level from across the criminal justice system, including the Courts and Tribunals Service, the Probation Board, the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) and the PSNI. Key Departments that are involved in children's lives, such as DHSSPS and DE, have also been invited to join the group, which will provide direction and oversight along with subgroups being commissioned to research, benchmark and provide evidence-based proposals to the main group. At this point, I should add that we are developing terms of reference for the steering group, which I am happy to share with members in due course.

Each subgroup that will be established will liaise with key stakeholders across the community, including children and young people, as they draw together their proposals for the steering group. You will also note that the Children's Commissioner has agreed that her office will offer guidance on the overall proposals at key stages in the development process. It is our intention to have a series of recommendations available for ministerial consideration by the end of February 2016. To guide us through this process, we will develop a timeline of key actions, which I am also happy to share with Committee members along with the terms of reference I mentioned earlier. This is a challenging time frame, but, as you might expect, the announcement has already generated significant interest across the criminal justice family and beyond. They all recognise, as we do, that this is an exciting opportunity to continue the work that was begun by the youth justice review and to redefine a system that will improve outcomes for the children involved as well as for their victims, their communities and society as a whole.

I hope this run-through has given members an idea of our plans in taking forward this scoping study. I and my team are happy to take questions and provide further clarification at this point.

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): Thank you very much. I am sure that you are aware that the Committee is also engaged in our justice seminar series. We are looking at innovation, particularly around youth justice, as an area where we think new approaches could be taken. If, as a Committee, we could get agreement on areas that we believe would feed very well into this, will the steering group be open to suggestions from our justice seminars or would somebody from the steering group even be willing to come along to our seminars and see whether there are ideas that they may wish to incorporate?

Mr McGeown: Absolutely. The whole team has been at the first two, and we were reassured by some of the ideas coming forward and that they lined up very well with what we intended to do. By all means, the steering group has an open agenda to look at the most important issues. If those issues come from that group, we will of course feed them into it.

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): In terms of the buy-in from the Health and Education Departments, there is an acknowledgment from all of us that the early intervention stuff will help prevent young people getting into the criminal justice system in later life. Aside from senior officials being part of the discussions, is there any commitment at this stage on the finances being put forward by two Departments to make sure that that wrap-around service can be seen on the ground?

Mr McGeown: We have not got any agreements per se, but we certainly have an agreement to work closely together on the challenging issues. In the last eight months since I have been in post, the discussions that I have had with colleagues in the Education and Health Departments were that they were willing to come to the table with us and work with us, and I have taken comfort from that. In recent days, we had the Minister of Education in Woodlands to see what his team can do, for example, and we work closely with Health colleagues on trying to map ideas going forward that address both our needs.

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): Finally, before I open up to other members, Sammy Douglas made a point when asking a question, and I am sorry for stealing it from him. However, he wanted to know why we had waited so long and why it had not been done before. Recommendations were made before, so why has there been a delay, and why are you coming forward with this now?

Mr McGeown: That is a fair question. I suggest that there has been a lot of progress over the last couple of years. It has not been the case that there was the youth justice review and we have stood still. We have implemented some very innovative ideas, which colleagues around this side of the table can elaborate on. So, there have been improvements, such as the youth engagement clinics, the idea of work on proportionality, looking at the intensive supervision and support programme (ISSP) etc, and we will continue to do that through the lifetime. It is certainly not going to be the case that we will wait until February next year and then decide what to do. If and when things come to the table that are quick wins, we will get on with them.

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): OK. I will give Sammy time to think of another question.

Mr McGlone: I will take you back a wee bit. We hear what you say, and the items that you mentioned are all very laudable. However, we had a comprehensive review of the youth justice system in September 2011. What is the difference in this scoping exercise? A lot of the themes — the key thematic areas that you are talking about — were already talked about. Is this just a review of a review, or will this be something meaningful?

Mr McGeown: This is building on that review. It is fair to say that a lot of recommendations came forward in the youth justice review, some of which have been implemented and have progressed well, but there are other ideas still to be delivered upon. I believe that this is an opportunity to get everyone round the table, find out the key areas, crack them and move forward now. We have made progress to a point, but we have a journey to go on, and this is continuing that journey.

Mr McGlone: Forgive me for asking, but are those key issues different from the key issues that were previously identified? I would be very suspicious that they would be the same.

Mr McGeown: They will be the same.

Mr McGlone: Is this just going to be another round-table exercise of saying, "Here, guys and gals, let's have another thought process about what we already know"? In other words, why can you not just drive on with it?

Mr McGeown: We all know what the issues are. At the first meeting of the steering group, we intend to outline the progress to date and then look to see what further progress needs to be made moving forward in this group. If all agree that we have tackled everything, of course we do not need to go any further. Having been in the post for the last eight months, my sense is that there is still a journey to go on with some of the areas, such as PACE remand and other such areas. My sense is that we would want to crack those areas and, with the goodwill that we have generated, this is the time to do that and complete it.

Ms Lloyd: One of the other things is the identification of the problems in terms of PACE numbers, the use of remand, the overuse of bail and all the work that was done in the youth justice review to identity problems. What we are now proposing is not to take that to the next level of identifying the problems. In the recommendations and in our response to it, we looked at what we could do to implement it. This is, in a way, a chance to pull together the entire criminal justice system and look at it from the base problem. This is the problem that we identified; how can we look creatively at how we can fundamentally get to the heart of the problem — with no holds barred, considering everything on the table, including whether it leads to legislation, whether it is a strategic change, even if it is a shift in responsibilities amongst the criminal justice partners — and fix it?

Mr McGlone: That begs the question why that was not done before.

Ms Aughey: A lot of the issues have been taken on board. We pre-empted a lot of the issues that came up in the youth justice review, such as involvement in diversion, proportionality etc. All those innovations have been going on; it is just about legitimising them now and maybe placing them in legislation. We have been innovative over the last three or four years, and all these things are in place, for example, youth engagement clinics. It is now about setting a framework and legitimising all that work.

Mr McGlone: What is the composition of the steering group?

Mr McGeown: It will be chaired by me, and colleagues from around the table will also sit on it. We will have membership from the criminal justice family: the PSNI; PPS; and internal bodies such as the Northern Ireland Courts and Tribunals Service etc. We have also invited the Education and Health Departments.

Mr McGlone: What about input from the voluntary and community sector?

Mr McGeown: It is critical, and certainly, in the last four to five months, since the Minister's announcement in November, we have taken the opportunity to meet with what we believe are a lot of the key groups to get their sense of how we move forward. There was certainly an appetite to do this and to get involved. We have taken their views, and they will be involved through the subgroups that will look at particular themes and consult with them.

Mr McGlone: Finally, to avoid any scepticism or anything about this as a review of a review, do have you a time limit after which you anticipate outcomes to the deliberations?

Mr McGeown: As I outlined in my opening remarks, we want to look at how to stop children coming into the justice system in the first place, how we simplify the legislation and how we stop children going into Woodlands who do not need to be there. We want to look at the issues and what proposals there might be to address them. We want to bring that to the table by February of next year, and we are developing a clear timeline so that we can touch base along the way and see what those issues are and how we can best bring them forward in a package next February.

Mr McGlone: Is that not an awful long time? I would be surprised if anything bounces up and hits you in the face, so that you say, "Oh, we did not think of that". Are you giving yourself too much time? I venture to suggest that one month would do it.

Mr McGeown: It depends on how you look at it. Some commentators from the stakeholder groups said that our time frame is overly ambitious. I could say to you that the three main strands are as I outlined, but as the chair of that group, I want to drill down into the barriers to work out why they have not happened and how we move that forward so that we get that collective will around the table to say, "Right, we have identified this as the issue; this is what we are going to do about it". If we did this piece of work in one month, we would only scratch the surface.

Mr McGlone: Do you seriously think it will take you eight months to suss out the issues, given your expertise and the expertise of other key stakeholders? I would be very surprised. We have just come from a briefing session upstairs dealing with a lot of complex issues. The knowledge and expertise was all there in the room, and in a short space of time, they were fit to distil the issues. We heard reports from the workshops. I am surprised it will take eight months.

Mr McGeown: If it happens any quicker, all the better. It is not the case that, come February of next year, we will suddenly have worked out what the issues are. There is a process of consulting with key stakeholders in the autumn. We will probably have worked out what the key issues are over the summer, and, importantly, how we move them forward. In the autumn, it is then about meeting with the stakeholders and deciding how we bring the issues in so that they are all happening appropriately and are doable.

Mr McGlone: Just to get this clear in my own mind: the stakeholders you will consult are external to the steering group.

Mr McGeown: Internal and external. We will consult everyone who has an interest.

Mr McGlone: You are going to review a review, and then you are going to consult with people who are part of that review. You are going to consult with them as part of the steering group, and then you are going to consult with them again in the autumn.

Mr McGeown: We will sit down as a steering group to identify what the key pillars of work are that need to be looked at in more detail. We will then task subgroups to go off and look at the detail over the summer. They will draw out the key issues in consultation with the key stakeholders on the ground. We will then start forming an idea of the proposals, which we will bring back to the steering group. Importantly, also, we will go to the key interest groups and say, "This looks like the direction of travel; is it what you had in mind?"

Mr McGlone: OK. Thank you for that.

Ms Aughey: In the meantime, the operational work and the innovation will continue. The work is not going to stop and start again in February.

Mr McGlone: No, I was not suggesting that.

Ms Aughey: Everything will go on. As I said earlier, it is about getting a framework around this and, maybe, a change in legislation. Our difficulty is that this work goes on, but we draw from five, six or seven different pieces of legislation, and we really need a more streamlined approach, which is part of the purpose of getting everybody together to say what that one approach will be.

Mr McGlone: Thank you for that.

Mr McCartney: Thank you very much for your presentation. My recollection is that the youth justice review team pointed out many strengths of the Youth Justice Agency, for the want of better words. The recommendations were to assist its strength. When he spoke in the Assembly the other day, the Minister said that people might describe this as a review of a review. It is about how we avoid that. I made the point to the Minister that we need a clear understanding of what needs to be done, who will be doing it and the timescale. How far are we on the road to achieving that?

Mr McGeown: Since the Minister's announcement on Tuesday, we have been devising a timeline and terms of reference for the steering group. My sense is that, in the next week or two, those will be in a shape that will allow us to circulate them. That is the commitment that I have given internally. In short, before the end of the month or in the first week of June, we should be in a position to circulate them and write to the Committee outlining the timeline of what we expect to do.

Mr McCartney: Will that include an implementation plan?

Mr McGeown: It will set out what we are trying to do over the next eight months or so. We have not quite bottomed out the level of detail that will go into it, but we will certainly have a look at that.

Mr McCartney: Patsy made the point about bringing others to the steering group. Are you satisfied that the other Departments will fully participate in this or will they see it as something that they will want to avoid in the short term?

Mr McGeown: The short answer is that I think they will participate. In the last 24 hours, the Department of Education said that it will sign up to it. Just this morning, the Health Department rang me to ask what level of grade to put on it.

Mr McCartney: Are you confident that you will have the terms of reference ready and in place?

Mr McGeown: I think that we will have the terms of reference in the coming weeks. The decision will be about whether we want to bring them to the first meeting of the group, which we are scheduling for June, to get its sign-off before bringing them. Other than that, that will be the only barrier; we have already started drafting the terms of reference.

Mr McCartney: So, by the start of the summer, we should be in place to have a very clear view of the pathway.

Mr McGeown: Absolutely.

Mr McCartney: OK. I want to ask about the participation of young people. Obviously, the statutory agencies and the voluntary groups will be involved, but how do you propose to involve young people in the shaping of this?

Mr McGeown: We are looking at that, but drawing on my experience of working on the community safety strategy, where we looked at representative groups, such as the Participation Network and others to help us to engage, we will probably look to that again and take their advice on how we can best do that.

Ms Lloyd: Whenever we talk about the subgroups consulting with stakeholders, that includes the children who are in the youth justice system and their parents. There is a very active group of parents who are involved in the youth justice system and who provide advice and give us critiques of how we are operating. That is one the key bodies that we would go to. It is a good way to reality-test what we propose to do to see whether the children and their parents think it would have enabled their children to stop offending in future. They are absolutely vital to everything that we take forward.

Mr McCartney: I asked about that because Criminal Justice Inspection (CJINI) is due to do another report.

Mr McGeown: That is right — on the youth justice review.

Mr McCartney: Are you in a position to say whether the improvements that it sought the last time are now in place?

Mr McGeown: I hope that we have made progress. I suspect that, without having had an opportunity to discuss it with it yet, it will come down to what success looks like. They might look more at an outcome-based approach, whereas we might look at the things that we have brought and progressed. They might ask where the outcomes are and how we identify them. There might be a discussion about that, but having looked at them, I can say that the vast majority of the issues have been progressed, because they have fed into this process.

Mr McCartney: OK. Good luck. Thank you very much.

Mr Frew: I will go straight in. This is not a trick question; it is more due to my ignorance than anything else, Declan. Where does the youth justice system start?

Mr McGeown: That is a good question. I have always been of the view that, from the moment a child comes into this world they could, in theory, be brought into the youth justice system because of their circumstances. Factually, the criminal age for responsibility, as you know, is 10, so it is not going to be before that. However, because of their circumstances, you can already start to identify indicators. We all know of children who miss school, have problems at home with their parents or are the brother or sister of people who have been through the system. It could start as early as that. When I was in community safety, I was always of the view that you were starting to think about it from nought to nine months because that is when people need that wrap-around service. We need to work closely with people, through early intervention, to make sure that, where the signs and signals are coming forward, we are there to address them at the earliest possible point, in conjunction with all the key players.

Mr Frew: Thank you very much for your answer. It has helped. Where then does the Youth Justice Agency start?

Mr McGeown: Technically, it starts when the children come in at 10 years old, but in the early intervention pilot programme, we are looking to see if signals are being identified to us that we need to start to look at. Formally, we deal with them once they are legally through that age.

Ms Aughey: As Declan stated, 10-year-olds are the earliest age group. That said, with our case load, we work with about 1,200 young people a year, and only 7% of them are aged between 10 and 14. The majority of the young people we work with are 15-plus.

We want to start looking at the arena of early stage intervention as opposed to early age intervention. So, it is not really a matter of a young person's age. Once they are over 10, we will work with them; but we want to look at the very early signs, where they start to display behaviours that may lead them to commit more serious offences. The moneys we received recently or will receive from the early intervention transformation programme will help us extend our remit a little bit to work with young people who display very early stage offending behaviours.

Ms Lloyd: Part of the issue is that, because of the nature of the children and how young they are, the police, by using diversion as much as possible, and all of us want to keep them out of the formal criminal justice system, because we know all too well that the outcome you can expect once they are formally in gets worse. We all want to keep them out of the criminal justice system.

Sometimes, by using diversion and without giving any kind of wrap-around support or being able to direct children to the right services, whether the statutory or voluntary sector or community groups or whether it is children who are displaying antisocial behaviour who need to reconnect with their local community, by not bringing them into the criminal justice system, we are not necessarily doing them any favours, because nothing is addressing what caused them to act in that way in the first place. We are looking at how we can get into that space without criminalising the child and without bringing them into the criminal justice system. We are looking at voluntarily engaging with them and offering them the significant support they can get from a qualified social worker, who works on these issues with youth justice and the PSNI, and can start providing that wrap-around support, with a view to our not seeing them later. Frequently, what we have at the moment is that we identify someone at the age of eight, nine or 10 and, as Mary will tell you, we are almost guaranteed to see them with a more serious offence, with basically a series of increasingly serious offending, and then we see them at 14 when they finally have to enter the criminal justice system because nothing has been done to address the issue.

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): At the risk of sounding really radical, if we are looking at preventative policies, is there an argument that youth justice would be better sitting in Education rather than the Department of Justice?

Mr Frew: You have stolen my third question. [Laughter.]

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): You can think of a new third one in the time it takes to answer.

Mr McGeown: I do not think it is a question of where it is located, but I understand the synergies of working closely with colleagues in Education. As long as we are interacting properly, and at the right time, with the key bodies, I think it does not really matter where we are located. It is a question of making sure that we are joining up at the right stage of that child's journey.

Mr Frew: It is OK, Chair. It was a very intellectual question. I maybe would not have got there. [Laughter.]

That is a very interesting answer. I want to get to the crux of this because I feel that when you get the child it is too late. You are not in control of its destiny, but you play a massive part in it, and it is about where you actually start from on a child's life journey.

Speech and language therapy seems to be an issue that is cropping up, and I know that the Chairman has raised it with the Minister. Over 50% of youth offenders seem to have speech therapy problems. I have experienced that in my family, and I know how long it takes to get on a waiting list, be referred and then be seen. People do not offend purely because of that issue, but it builds frustration, and lack of communication must be a factor. Mental health must be another massive issue. You are working against the tide, as opposed to trying to stop the tide. What can you do, as an agency, to help resolve the issue of waiting times and services for children?

Mr McGeown: I totally agree on both issues. My sense is that we need to work as closely as possible with our Health colleagues. We need to work closely with other colleagues as well, but particularly with Health colleagues. We have a good working relationship in place currently. I met colleagues from Health in recent months to outline some of the issues we are dealing with. They are over the detail of that and have agreed to work closely with us. It is about doing it. We have an initiative in place to deal with mental health, which Phil can elaborate on.
On the speech and language side of things, I am meeting one a representative from the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists in the middle of June to talk about how we might move forward. I am conscious that we need to try and move this forward in the prevailing financial climate. We are going to have a look at how we can do that.

Mr Frew: There is a great phrase running through Civil Service land at the minute: "preventative spend". While some of that stuff is risky and hard to justify, have you identified any ways of getting money down more quickly to plug the issue?

Mr McGeown: In short, that is what we are trying to do on the early intervention side. It was the case several months ago, at the turn of the year, that we felt we were dealing well with children as they pass through the system; but we need to stop them entering it the first place. That is why we actively sought money from the Delivering Social Change (DSC) early intervention programme. We have that and it helps us to move forward and start looking at how we identify the signals and address them. We are also trying to look creatively at other funding streams that we might be able to draw down to address some of the issues. We will see if we can fund those, if only to get a pilot so that we can look at it and see whether it is something we might later mainstream when we get a good look at our budgets in the next couple of years.

Mr Frew: Early intervention is important, but when someone is already in the system, their needs have to be looked after too. What is being done in our secure premises, including Hydebank and various others that deal with young people? What facilities and services are there that will assist with that? As you say, if we do not solve an issue at age 10, you will see the young people again at 14 and 15. That may be part of a problem that could be fixed.

Mr Tooze: Going back to the point you made about mental health; we have been working very closely with colleagues from the Health and Social Care Board and the Department of Health to set up a community forensic child and adolescent mental health service. It will be based in Woodlands but will deliver a service to the community, linking with the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) teams in the community. It is an initiative through which we are pooling resources and cutting through some of the normal barriers. It is early days as regards recruiting some of the staff, but it is already operational and there will probably be an official launch at some point. We still have a few key appointments to make. It is a sign of Departments and organisations working together to address some of the key issues in relation to mental health and offending.

One thing I have noticed over the years, and I have been in this business for a very long time now, is that a lot of the young people we deal with and who have mental health problems do not necessarily respond in the traditional way to appointments being sent out. They tend to have chaotic lives, and sometimes drug abuse is also an issue in relation to that. This service will be much more able to respond, in the interim, to finding assessments, linking in with, and supporting, the CAMHS teams with a specialist degree of knowledge. The team, when fully set up, will provide a CAMHS in-reach service to Woodlands, so that there will be dedicated mental health time for children who are placed in Woodlands.

It is a significant issue. We took a snapshot a number of years ago which identified a number of children who were under the care of a consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, who were also on a range of quite complex medications, and who were experiencing a number of serious difficulties in relation to mental health. This strategy was developed in response to a number of those things. As I said, it is early days, but it is showing promise.

There are other aspects. Within Woodlands, obviously, we have a school and we have young people who have significant deficiencies in their education, in literacy, numeracy and ICT. They undertake a minimum of 20 hours education a week. We are able to assess them and get them into education, often when they have not been in school for many years, and they achieve quite significant results within a short space of time. We also work closely with their families. We have family intervention workers who work with families to try to overcome some of the more difficult and complex issues.

Going back to the consultation point, we held a number of consultation events for children with our colleagues in the voluntary sector. Include Youth has been particularly good at holding consultation events with us over the years and it will hold meetings with groups of children. We will probably do that again, both in custody and in the community.

Mr Frew: Will the new legislation, whatever it looks like when it arrives, have a thread running through it regarding access for these young people to gain support through CAMHS for speech and language problems?

Mr McGeown: The short answer is that I could not tell you whether it is specifically going to say that, but certainly the suite of proposals — not just the legislation, but other proposals — that will come forward will look at the full panoply of things that need to be done to help that child's journey through life, not through the system.

Mr Frew: The Justice Minister approved spending on speech and language therapy for the Youth Justice Agency: where did that money go?

Mr McGeown: I have looked at the budget for this year and I have to make a 12% saving on it. We took a zero-based approach and, basically, went from zero upwards on the pressing issues, as we saw them, in this next financial year. We aggregated the budget on that basis. Let me say up front that we did not include a speech and language therapist at that point because there is more discussion to be had between Health and us, not just about paying for it for one year but how we mainstream it and make sure it goes forward on a year-by-year basis. We are looking at what we can do in-year and at other funding streams that currently exist in the Department. We are looking at whether we can draw down funding for it, whether we can fund it over the next year and then work with Health colleagues and others to see how we can mainstream it.

Mr Frew: Because of that, has finance been secured for the future to enable you, or others, to provide speech and language therapy services?

Mr McGeown: The best way I can answer that is to say that I have no doubt that I will be aggregating my budget for next year to see how we can best deliver the services. If this becomes a key priority, and it sounds as though it is starting to become one, I will have to look at it and possibly include it as a mainstream part of the funding.

Mr Frew: If the money was not spent on speech and language therapy, where was it spent?

Mr McGeown: We have a budget of around £16·7 million. That was the budget that I had to aggregate towards this year. At a very high level, we put around £7 million towards the running of Woodlands and around £6 million to youth services. The rest of the money for this year is being spent on buildings, running costs, staff and all that comes with that. That is largely how it was spread.

Mr Frew: How much was allocated? How much did the Minister approve for speech and language therapy?

Mr McGeown: He did not approve it per se. The budget is set, and I have to deliver against it. It was not a case of the Minister saying, "Set aside X amount for that"; it is more a case of him saying, "This is the budget you have to live within for next year, and you have to prioritise it as you see fit". That is how we did it.

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): How much would it cost us to get a speech and language therapist?

Mr McGeown: I could not tell you off the top of my head. I have heard various figures mentioned, ranging from £30,000 to £45,000, but I do not know.

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): That would be split between the Justice and Health Departments? Has the Health Minister indicated that he is willing to contribute? Is that not right?

Mr McGeown: He indicated that he is happy that the proposal be looked at and moved forward. I would not want to say what he will put to it financially.

Mr Douglas: I thank Declan and the team for their presentation so far. Could you remind me and the Committee what a custodial sentence does to a child? Those children are often very vulnerable anyway. I am thinking of the damage it can cause to children and the cost to the public purse. What about the effect it has on reoffending, for example? Does it work? Those are the sorts of questions I would like you to answer before I ask another couple of questions.

Mr McGeown: Each child will react to their experiences differently. Is there a cost? The short answer is, "Yes", and it is a high cost once they are really into the justice system. That is why we have started to turn our attention to early intervention. We firmly believe that if we keep as many children out of the system as we can, we will bring the costs down and redistribute the funding to other things, such as the areas we talked about in the last five or 10 minutes. In short, it is expensive once they are in the system, and it is particularly expensive once they go into the Woodlands set up, because that is an institution. That is why the earlier you can get to them in order to keep them out of the system the better.

Mr Douglas: At the recent elections, our party produced a policy document on the approach to law and order, and we talked about being tough but fair. Can we actually be tough but fair in dealing with young children in terms of custodial sentences?

Mr McGeown: You have to accept — I certainly do — that some children warrant punishment for their acts. That is a fact, and we cannot say, "Treat them all in a homogenous way, and that'll help the problem". For some people, the law has to come down on them. As much as possible, we try to move away from that and help children so that they do not go through that system and do not come out with criminal records etc. Inevitably, some do, and some will have to.

Ms Lloyd: It is fair to say that there are children who end up in Woodlands who really should not be there. There are children who arrive there through routes that we do not want to see them arriving through. There are children who are placed there overnight because, for the majority of time, they have no family who will look after them.

Mr Douglas: Kiera, sorry for interrupting, but could you give us a figure or a percentage of the children who should not be there?

Mr McGeown: It is a tricky one to say. Phil can elaborate on this, but if you take any one day, you have in and around 30 or 30-plus children in Woodlands. It is fair to say that probably half of them are there on a sentence, but a lot of them are on remand, PACE etc.

Mr Tooze: It roughly works out as about one third being there on sentence and two thirds not on sentence. The figure has been fairly consistent since I have been doing the job, which is the last 12 years. There should not be that balance, which is one of the issues that needs to be addressed with all the different stakeholders and people we are going to have around the table, whom we were talking about earlier.

As to whether the right children are in Woodlands, Criminal Justice Inspection would probably say, "Yes, on balance, in terms of offending profiles". These profiles are certainly far more serious than those for children who are bailed. However, I question whether some of them should be there. They are sometimes there because of more pressing welfare issues, and it may be difficult for them to be managed in the community because of, for example repeated breaches of bail conditions and non-compliance. The problems that brought them into custody in the first place and got them involved in offending lead to them coming back into custody. So, it ends up being a bit of a vicious circle.

It has changed significantly, and one of the things we were talking about was whether things have changed since the youth justice review. They have, absolutely. We work closely with our colleagues in Health to avoid young people from the care sector coming into custody unnecessarily when they can be managed through another type of resort, either secure accommodation or intensive fostering. We see very few children from the younger age group coming into custody now, which is a major success we have achieved over the last few years.

Mr Douglas: I was at the Social Development Committee meeting this morning. Officials there talked about working in a collaborative and partnership way with community and voluntary organisations. In answer to the question Raymond asked, Kiera mentioned that, as part of the process, she would be involved with children, their families and other organisations. What will that engagement be with the community and voluntary sector, and will it include community based responses to children offending or the restorative processes as an example?

Mr McGeown: The short answer is, yes, it certainly will. We will be guided by the steering group and others on the shape it will take, but I hope that young people will feel, at the end of the process, that they and their families were properly consulted, because we have the good networks to do that and we would be building on them. So, we will talk to everyone we think is a key player.

Mr Elliott: Thanks for the presentation. I have a couple of issues. You talked about cooperation with Health. Is that really social services, or is it Health more generally?

Mr McGeown: It is a bit of both. Social services are, obviously, a key part of that, but we try to engage with Health on a more general basis to look at all health factors.

Mr Elliott: One of my queries was around social services. How much work is there with social services in respect of those young people?

Mr McGeown: There is a lot. A lot of our team are qualified social workers.

Mr Tooze: Yes, I am a social worker. We work very closely with colleagues in social services. When a child comes into custody, one of the first things we do is organise a meeting with the family, the child, and any other interested parties, such as social workers. We are basically planning for the discharge of the child from the day they come in. Given that about a third of the young people come from a care background, we work very closely with social services in terms of childcare planning.

Mr Elliott: A third?

Mr Tooze: Yes, a third come from a looked-after background. It is a significant part of it. There is probably a lower number in the community, but a number of those children, although not looked-after, have a social worker.

Ms Aughey: They would still have a social worker. There are strong links in community services with the trusts. All the staff who work in the community are either youth workers or social workers in the agency. There is that connection as well. A social worker would be very much at the forefront of the work we do with young people.

Mr Elliott: What is their view of the proposals and how they are being taken forward? Have they given a view, or has it been just the Department?

Mr McGeown: Nobody has been asked to give a view. We had a group that met yearly involving Health and us to look at the issues, and we set out the work that we were about to embark on. They said, "We would absolutely be involved in that going forward to look at how we can help on the various strands that we've outlined". They are keen to be involved.

Mr Elliott: Did you get any response to the consultation from the victims sector?

Mr McGeown: In short, victims are a key part of this. When children are perpetrators, there will be victims, but the children themselves will be also victims of what has happened in their life. We cannot progress this without looking at the victims. It has to be the child, the victim and, as I have outlined, society as a whole. Victims will play a part in this.

Ms Lloyd: They are more a part of this, but, in terms of the way that the Youth Justice Agency approaches community sentences, it is restorative. It is about bringing the victim in and helping them to see an outcome. It is about talking to the child and that child facing the consequences of what they did through having a direct conversation with their victim to come to a resolution acceptable to —

Mr Elliott: Is that work ongoing?

Ms Aughey: In the last 10 to 12 years, victim work has been at the heart of everything we do. That certainly will not change. Whatever outcome happens in February, we will continue to build on that. Currently, we have, I think, 47% direct victim attendance at a conference, so the young person meets their victim face to face and comes up with a plan as to what needs to happen next. That will remain a cornerstone of whatever the outworkings of the new process are.

Mr Elliott: Currently, what percentage of victims are involved in a young person's case? I know that not all victims are involved; I assume it is a percentage.

Ms Aughey: It is a percentage. I think it is fair to say that we have the highest percentage across Europe and probably the US in terms of direct involvement. We are very clear that it has to be the direct victim. Out of our 1,500 or so referrals a year, where a direct victim has been hurt or harmed, 46% to 47% of them attend a conference and a further larger percentage participate in some way, whether it be via a letter or coming through a youth conference coordinator, to give their opinion on what should happen to the young person at the end of process.

Mr Elliott: Does the evidence show that this is helpful from a victim's perspective?

Ms Aughey: We measure victim satisfaction every quarter, and, every quarter, there is between 97% and 99% victim satisfaction with the process

The Chairperson (Mr Ross): OK. Nobody else has indicated. Thank you very much. I appreciate your time.

Find Your MLA


Locate your local MLA.

Find MLA

News and Media Centre


Read press releases, watch live and archived video

Find out more

Follow the Assembly


Keep up to date with what’s happening at the Assem

Find out more



Enter your email address to keep up to date.

Sign up