The Association of Youth Offending Team Managers (AYM) welcomes the final report of the Medway Improvement Board (MIB) and notes the responses of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and the Youth Justice Board (YJB). As the report points out, the events uncovered at Medway Secure Training Centre are part of a succession of stories of abuse of children in custody which go back over many years. It reinforces the Association’s view that secure accommodation should be reserved for only the small number of young people who pose a danger to others, and should consist of small units of accommodation, sited close to the young person’s home area. They should always have their focus on keeping young people safe while preparing them for resettlement and on improving educational attainment, behaviour and mental and physical health.
We particularly appreciate the Improvement Board’s efforts to listen to and to believe the young people with whom they spoke. We also appreciate that their report was concluded in a very timely manner. It is our view that the report could have been enhanced by the incorporation of the perspective of youth offending teams (YOTs) as they have significant engagement with young people in custody and their families; and with secure establishments. Thus had this Association been invited to join the “round table event”, we would have made the point that all of the young people serving sentences in Medway will have had an allocated YOT worker, and will have spent at least as long under supervision in the community as they spent in secure accommodation. This means that YOTs are uniquely well placed to obtain information from young people and their parents/ carers about the way in which they were treated within the secure estate. For obvious reasons we do not know how many, if any, of the 35 whistle-blowing letters produced by YJB came from YOT workers and we would suggest that information from young people about their experiences should be systematically collected in the future.
It is clear that the events in Medway could have occurred anywhere in the secure estate but especially where the values and priorities of the commissioners differ widely from those of the providers. Looking to the future, the MIB’s report leads us to the following views:
· independent chairs of Local Safeguarding Children Boards should be represented on any improvement governance boards set up for any parts of the secure estate for children
· there should also be a YOT Manager on such boards
· YOTs should be required to take responsibility for ensuring that the experiences of all young people leaving secure accommodation are listened to, recorded and passed on to governance boards as well as to both the relevant commissioners and providers.
In conclusion, we would be pleased to be able to assist in future commissioning arrangements to ensure that outcomes for children and communities are the central feature of commissioning, rather than the process and micro management approach that the report refers to and which has clearly failed. It is vital that the experience of the child in custody is intrinsically linked to the plans for resettlement, and therefore we believe that YOT input to the commissioning and design process is essential.