Lancashire's Youth Offending Team is making positive progress following a major restructure, according to inspectors.
The YOT is based in Lancashire County Council and is one of the largest in the country.
Staff supervise 10 to 18-year-olds – some are serving court sentences, while others have not been charged and have been given conditional cautions or community resolutions instead.
HM Inspectorate of Probation gave Lancashire YOT an overall rating of ‘Good’ and made six recommendations with the aim of improving its performance further.
They are that the Lancashire YOT Manager should:
Make sure that reviewing of statutory casework is timely and responsive, that it considers all areas of risk and need and that it leads to the necessary adjustments to any ongoing plan of work;
Produce effective plans to support interventions that promote desistance, keep children safe and manage risk of harm to others
Analyse children and young people’s health needs to inform the work of health professionals and YOT case managers, and review current services to make sure they are meeting these needs.
The other three recommendations are that the Lancashire's Director of Children’s Services should:
Ensure that all staff have the capacity and support they need to undertake their work effectively and that management oversight is meaningful and makes a difference
Make sure that thresholds for access to services for children and families are understood and applied consistently by children’s social care;
Ensure that all children and young people receive an effective initial assessment of their educational needs, and have access to impartial advice and guidance and the resources needed to reduce any barriers to engaging in education, employment and training.
Inspectors were joined by colleagues from the police, health, social care, and education sectors for the inspection.
Chief Inspector of Probation Justin Russell said: “Lancashire YOT is on an improving trend and has some significant strengths, particularly in relation to the young people dealt with outside the courts system.
“A major restructure has affected staff, but they are motivated and optimistic that things will improve as new ways of working are embedded.
"We could see, even at an early stage, the impact that new roles, such as a dedicated education lead, were having on driving improvements in specific areas.”
However, Mr Russell noted the restructure had also had unintended consequences,]
He added: “Staff are working across a large geographical area and they have reported that this is a significant challenge.
"Staff are spending more time travelling, and this affects their capacity to deliver high-quality services to children and young people.
“Senior managers need to fully understand and address the challenges experienced by staff if they are to achieve their aim of creating a high-performing and resilient service.”
Inspectors were impressed with the YOT’s work with children and young people outside the formal court system. Three out of four inspected aspects of this work were rated ‘Outstanding’ – the highest mark.
Mr Russell said: “We found YOT staff developed effective working relationships with children and young people, and their families.
"They identify why the child or young person offended and the factors that could help them to move away from further offending.
“In one example, we found partner agencies worked well together to help a young person realise the dangers and consequences of carrying knives.
"The young person and his mother were involved throughout the process, and the young person received help with his mental health and education needs.”
Inspectors also recognised the efforts of Lancashire Police’s early action teams. The teams – made up of police officers and police staff – help to address problems in the community, such as anti-social behaviour.
Children who are at risk of getting involved in crime are often referred to the team for preventative work.
Inspectors found improvements are needed in some areas.
The Management Board has appointed a new chairman – after a 12-month gap – who will provide more consistent leadership and ensure partners, such as children’s social services and health services, attend meetings more regularly and contribute to improving the YOT’s performance.
The Inspectorate would also like to see more effective work with children and young people subject to court orders.
Inspectors found safeguarding concerns were not always responded to swiftly enough to ensure the wellbeing of children and young people. Risk management was also undermined by a lack of attention to the protection of actual and potential victims.
The report concluded: "We have made six recommendations that we believe, if implemented, will have a positive impact on the quality of youth offending services in Lancashire. This will improve the lives of the children in contact with youth offending services, and better protect the public.
Barbara Bath, head of service responsible for the Lancashire Youth Offending Team, said: "We're very pleased with the 'good' rating for our Youth Offending Team.
"We've refocused the service making many improvements and I'm glad the hard work is paying off.
"We've improved staff training, introduced a specialist post to promote education and employment, and improved the prevention part of the service.
"We have also continued to build on the strong partnerships we've developed with the police, health services, probation service and other organisations.
"It's vital that we continue to improve our YOT and the next step will be to introduce a new diversion service to discourage young people from becoming involved in crime.
"Well done to everyone involved, their hard work and commitment is making a real difference to young people in Lancashire."