Oxfordshire Youth Justice Service praised for innovative approach to tackling exploitation

Efforts to tackle child exploitation in Oxfordshire have been applauded by inspectors.

HM Inspectorate of Probation conducted a routine inspection of Oxfordshire Youth Justice Service (YJS) in January. The service, based in Oxfordshire County Council, is run as a partnership with representatives from education, health, police and other services.

Inspectors looked at 12 aspects of Oxfordshire YJS’s work and awarded an overall rating of ‘Good’.

Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: “Oxfordshire YJS has a strong approach to tackling the criminal exploitation of children. Staff are working hard to help those caught up in serious organised crime such as county lines drug-dealing networks, which often exploit children to transport drugs and money.

“Senior leaders made a strategic decision to focus on this issue and have invested resources accordingly. Effective arrangements are in place for the YJS, police and health services to share information, and this helps the Management Board to have a clear picture of offending across the county.

“We were impressed by the innovative work and the range of tactics used to disrupt this type of crime. This included a clinic that is run by police and specialist drug workers that helps to identify those used for, or vulnerable to, county lines. These children were diverted from the criminal justice system and received support instead.”

The YJS has also used the creative arts to help children explore and tell their personal stories. A project involving a recording artist has run for two years, working with groups of children who had been groomed for drugs exploitation. Inspectors spoke to a parent and child, who said the experience helped them to talk openly about what happened and why.

Inspectors noted that many aspects of core youth justice work are done well. Staff are good at assessing children’s strengths and the factors that could help them to turn away from offending. There is also an “excellent” focus on the victims of crime and restorative justice.

Inspectors described YJS staff as “knowledgeable, motivated and committed”, with a strong focus on achieving the best outcomes for children.

One of the YJS’s strongest areas was its partnerships and services. The Inspectorate rated this aspect of work ‘Outstanding’ – the highest mark.

Mr Russell said: “The YJS works with a range of partners to meet children’s needs, for example to get into education or to tackle substance misuse. We found staff helped to prepare children for referrals to other agencies and supported them while they waited for a service.

“The child and adolescent mental health service provides excellent support. The YJS is also developing its relationship with the local authority’s education, training and employment team and with schools. Work is underway to understand and respond to the high incidence of fixed-term exclusions for children known to the YJS.”

Mr Russell added: “Oxfordshire YJS should be proud of many aspects of its work, including its innovative approach to tackling offending. We will be watching closely to see how the service continues to develop and there is potential for other youth offending services to look and learn from them too.”

County Councillor Steve Harrod, Cabinet Member for Children and Family Services, said: “We are committed to safeguarding every young person; I’m delighted that our efforts are being recognised.

“Encouraging children to open up and seek support is vital in reducing their sense of hopelessness and isolation, helping them to be aware of signs of exploitation and to stay clear of crime.

“We will continue to learn, to improve and innovate, working with our partners in a coordinated approach to protect vulnerable young people.”