Barking and Dagenham youth offending service under fire – but councils step up to defend it

Barking Town Hall

Barking Town Hall - Credit: Archant

A panel member from Havering’s youth offending service has spoken out against what he believes was its “disastrous” outsourcing to Barking and Dagenham Council last year.

A panel member from Havering’s youth offending service has spoken out against what he believes was its “disastrous” outsourcing to Barking and Dagenham Council last year.

But Jeff Stafford’s claims, which echo those made by a councillor in the Post, come as bosses at both councils heaped praise on the move.

Last week Havering councillor Keith Darvill told the Post the service had “declined” during its time here. His words followed the announcement the programme was being brought back under Havering’s control.

Jeff said: “I hold Barking and Dagenham Council completely responsible for the terrible mess the Havering youth offending service finds itself in, and very much welcome Havering’s decision to take back control.

“When I became a panel member [eight years ago], the training was first class.

“Two years ago, before the disastrous contracting out of the service from Havering to Barking and Dagenham, panel members in Havering were told they needed to be ‘retrained’ to fall in line with legislation. To date, we have not received this training.

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“Youth offending team guidance says a panel should consist of two voluntary, appropriately trained, community members plus an officer from the youth offending service.

“I often find I am the sole community panel member –which goes completely against the principle of the legislation.”

But Havering’s Cllr Meg Davis, its cabinet member for children and learning, has praised Barking and Dagenham’s contribution to the service.

“We worked successfully with Barking and Dagenham’s youth offending service for two years,” she said. “This helped us completely turn around the service, improving our performance significantly.

“Due to reducing budgets we must constantly look at ways to do more with less, and make our taxpayers’ money go further. We found we could not only make a saving, but also make the service more streamlined for young people by merging it with our new early help offer for children over 12. That is the reason the service has been brought back in house, not due to any concerns about Barking and Dagenham’s service.”

Barking and Dagenham Council this week said the service had increased in quality under its watch.

Cllr Laila Butt, cabinet member for crime and enforcement, writes in this week’s letters page: “Both Barking and Dagenham and Havering councils were surprised to see the comments made by Cllr Keith Darvill to the Post criticising joint Youth Offending Services.

“We were invited by Havering Council to take over management of the youth offending team (YOT) in Havering following an inspection that highlighted significant improvements needed to be made.

“It is a shame the great partnership work that has achieved so much has been criticised in this way. We have had nothing but praise from Havering and from partners in both police and probation for the way in which we have worked with Havering to turn around this service and have certainly not been informed of any ‘investigation’.

“We worked with Havering for two years on this project and, due to government cuts, many councils are having to make difficult decisions and Havering is taking the service back in house.

“In terms of performance, all youth offending services are required to make regular returns to the Youth Justice Board. The feedback from the YJB at the end of 2013/14 was that the YOT was emerging as a high performing YOT. This is a significant turnaround over a two-year period.

“At the same time all councils continually audit case work to ensure young people are being safeguarded.

“When Havering carried out a routine audit of cases in the YOT earlier this year they reported they were pleased with the results, seeing a real increase in quality and delivery. Havering has been clear that due to the significant efforts we have made to improve processes and structures they are now able to retake management responsibility for their service.

“Indeed, they have praised both boroughs for the great work that has been achieved which, most importantly, has resulted in positive outcomes for young offenders in Havering. Looking to the future, and building on this successful approach, here in Barking and Dagenham we would welcome the opportunity to work with other boroughs to develop and improve their services in this way.”

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Barking and Dagenham youth offending service blasted by Havering councillor