Western Bay Youth Justice and Early Intervention Service - Poorly-managed merger means public not protected

Amalgamation of youth justice services from Swansea, Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend was poorly implemented and the organisation created in 2014 failed adequately to protect the children and young people and the wider public, inspectors found.

Western Bay Youth Justice and Early Intervention Service was inspected in late 2018. Dame Glenys Stacey, HM Chief Inspector of Probation, said: “None of the three local authorities has taken full responsibility for the service. This lies at the heart of many of the problems.”

The Management Board did not have a good enough understanding of its roles and responsibilities or difficulties including “inconsistent partnership work, variable quality of casework and inadequate day-to-day management.” Managers and staff were “left to firefight and respond to the symptoms of significant systemic problems.”

The strongest area was support for children and young people in not re-offending but safety and wellbeing needs were often underestimated. The impact of abuse in their backgrounds was not given significant weight. The report noted: “We are concerned that some children as young as eight are being incorrectly referred to the service’s prevention from offending scheme. These children have safeguarding needs, which should not be met in a criminal justice service.”

Dame Glenys added: “We found many examples where it was impossible to tell if children and young people were protected.”

In cases where children and young people had court orders, work to protect others was poor. The report noted: “We found widespread underestimation of risk factors, and previous risky behaviour – including criminal behaviour – was not used to understand actual and potential risk to victims.”

In two cases, children who had downloaded indecent images of child sexual abuse were assessed as low risk of serious harm; inspectors disagreed with both assessments. In one case, the child’s ability to access the ‘dark web’ was not assessed or understood. The report noted: “The assessment was too ready to accept the child’s explanation when, in reality, it is virtually impossible to come across materials of this nature accidently.”

Inspectors’ concerns were so serious that HM Inspectorate of Probation issued its first-ever ‘organisational alert’ over cases where they “were not assured that safeguarding and vulnerability had been addressed or that risk of serious harm to others was understood and managed…We asked that a plan be produced to show how cases could be reviewed. No plan was produced nor is one in place, and the response to the organisational alert lacks understanding and urgency.”

Inspectors found that staff – whose morale was “fragile” – were trying to do their best in difficult circumstances. They were very child-focused, and spoke warmly of the children and young people with whom they interacted. Police support to the service was good.

Some pockets of good practice included the out-of-court disposal scheme, a ‘building skills’ programme and an intervention centre in Swansea, delivering education and training and offending behaviour work. A music engagement programme enabled some young people to work as DJs.

However, the service could not measure the proportion of children and young people who were not receiving education, training and employment. There was no effective strategy to ensure those who spoke Welsh could develop it or understand it as an employment skill.

Dame Glenys added: “Where good practice happens, this tends to be due to individual efforts and builds on schemes established before the Western Bay service was created.”

A new head of service started in October 2018, with the brief to take Bridgend out of the amalgamation, without detriment to any of the local authorities. The report noted, however: “There are no mitigations or controls to identify or manage service risks.”

Overall, Dame Glenys, said:

“We expect the Management Board to take swift action to deal with the recommendations…to ensure that the partnership works together to meet the safeguarding and offending needs of children and young people. Critically, work to meet public protection responsibilities needs to be effective.”

  • Ends –  Notes to editors:
  1. The report is available at www.justiceinspectorates.gov.uk/hmiprobation on 28 March 2019.
  2. Youth Offending Teams, which deliver youth offending services, supervise 10-18-year olds who have been sentenced by a court, or who have come to the attention of the police because of their offending behaviour but have not been charged and instead are dealt with out of court.
  3. Established in 2014, Western Bay Youth Justice and Early Intervention Service was an amalgamation of Swansea, Neath Port Talbot and Bridgend youth offending services. The Chair of the Management Board is the Director of Neath Port Talbot’s Children’s Services. Bridgend is the lead local authority, and the Director of Education provides line management for the service’s head of service. The service has four work strands – prevention, out of court, post court and voluntary engagement. At the time of the inspection, the service held around 220 cases.
  4. HM Inspectorate of Probation is the independent inspector of youth offending and probation services. They inspect against published standards and all services are given one of four ratings: Outstanding, Good, Requires improvement and Inadequate.
  5. Fieldwork in Western Bay took place in November and December 2018.
  6. For further information please contact John Steele, Chief Communications Officer, on 020 3334 0357 or 07880 787452, or at john.steele@justice.gov.uk (E-mail address)