Health Minister Robin Swann and Justice Minister Naomi Long have today launched a public consultation on proposals for a new joint Care and Justice Campus for children and young people in Northern Ireland. It is proposed that the new Campus will comprise the existing Regional Secure Care Centre at Lakewood and the Juvenile Justice Centre at Woodlands, and also incorporate a range of multi-agency satellite provision.
The launch of this consultation marks an important step in the implementation of the recommendations made in the Review of Regional Facilities for Children and Young People, published in December 2018. The consultation proposals also seek to give effect to plans emerging from the Department of Justice Scoping Study into Children in the Justice System, which concluded in 2016 and recommended the repurposing of Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre as a key step to delivering safer communities.
Both Ministers have pledged to provide the best possible support to the small number of children and young people who require a period of secure accommodation for their own safety or the safety of others.
Health Minister Robin Swann said, “I fully recognise that the establishment of a Care and Justice Campus represents a significant change in how we provide services for a small but often vulnerable group of children and young people, many of whom have very complex needs. An important aim of the proposals being consulted on is to try and prevent young people being admitted to the Campus in the first place.
“This will require us to provide them with effective supports in the community, which are therapeutic and made available on an inter-agency, co-ordinated basis. Some children and young people will continue to need to spend time in secure care. When they do, we need to ensure that the services provided to them are high quality, therapeutically focussed and deliver the best possible outcomes for them – making it possible for them to return to the community within the shortest time possible.”
The Minister continued, “There is growing evidence of the lasting impact that childhood trauma can have on our own life chances and those of our children and grandchildren. Many of the children and young people who have spent time in secure accommodation and in the Juvenile Justice Centre have experienced childhood trauma. I have a particular concern about the disproportionate number of Looked After Children who find themselves in the Juvenile Justice Centre. I want to see that trend reversed and I am confident that the new Campus will make that possible”.
Justice Minister Naomi Long said: “The proposals for a new Care and Justice Campus represent a true partnership project between Justice, Health and Social Care, Education and other sectors. We all have a desire, if not an obligation, to provide the right support to the relatively small number of children and young people who are admitted to either secure care, the Juvenile Justice Centre and, in many cases, both every year.
“This means supporting them in a way that best meets their needs and, where appropriate, addresses the underlying causes of their offending behaviours. Those needs are rarely met by a single agency. The Campus will create a framework within which agencies can work better together and wrap their services around children and young people, rather than operating independently and moving them from service to service, which is currently often the case.”
Minister Long continued: “The Campus also presents the opportunity to provide earlier help and support to these children and young people, again on an inter-agency basis, and keep them out of a secure environment completely. This is completely in keeping with the wider aims of my department, including our reducing offending and community safety aims.
“There has been a gradual reduction of the numbers of children and young people being admitted to custody over the years. The Campus will be key to enabling us to bring those numbers down further in ways that deliver better outcomes for children and young people, and also for victims and communities.
“This is an exciting opportunity and a good demonstration of co-operation that goes well beyond the Departments of Health and Justice. It draws in the Departments of Education, the Economy and Communities, too. The consultation is also an opportunity for the public and key stakeholders to have their say and to help us shape the campus.”
Both Ministers put on record their thanks and gratitude to every member of staff in Lakewood and Woodlands, recognising the very dedicated and professional teams of staff currently working with children and young children every day. They have also thanked all those who have worked with the Programme Team to date in helping to develop thinking and have offered assurance that they will continue to be involved in shaping the Campus at every step of the way.