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Youth Justice

Volume 605: debated on Tuesday 26 January 2016

As I assured the House on 11 January, Official Report, column 573, the safety and welfare of all those in custody is vital. We treat the allegations of abuse directed towards young people at the Medway Secure Training Centre, run by G4S, with the utmost seriousness. Kent police and Medway Council’s child protection team have launched an investigation which will determine whether there is any evidence to justify criminal proceedings. The Ministry of Justice and Youth Justice Board will fully support and co-operate with their enquiries.

Following the allegations, our immediate priority has been to ensure that young people at the centre are safe. HMIP and Ofsted visited Medway STC on 11 January and their findings are published today. The Youth Justice Board, which is responsible for commissioning and oversight of the secure youth estate, has increased both its own monitoring at Medway STC and the presence of Barnardo’s, who provide an independent advocacy service at the centre. The YJB immediately stopped all placements of young people into the centre and suspended the certification of staff named in the allegations.

I believe, however, that we need to do more in order to have confidence that the STC is being run safely and that the right lessons have been learned. Today’s report by HMIP and Ofsted recommends the appointment of a commissioner to provide additional external oversight of the governance of the centre. I agree that additional external oversight is necessary and am also concerned that it draws on the broadest possible expertise.

I am therefore today appointing an independent improvement board, comprised of four members with substantial expertise in education, running secure establishments and looking after children with behavioural difficulties. This board will fulfil the same function, with the same remit, as HMIP and Ofsted’s recommendation for a commissioner. We have tasked G4S with putting an improvement plan in place, which this board will oversee.

I have appointed Dr Gary Holden as the chair of the improvement board. Dr Holden is the chief executive officer and executive principal of The Williamson Trust, a successful academy chain in Kent. This includes the outstanding Sir Joseph Williamson’s Mathematical School, located less than a mile from Medway STC. He is also a national leader of education and chair of the Teaching Schools Council. His experience as a headteacher and leader of a high-performing organisation make him ideally suited to identify the steps that should be taken to raise standards at Medway STC.

Dr Holden will be joined by: Bernard Allen, an expert in behaviour management and the use of restraint; Emily Thomas, interim governor of HM Prison Holloway and former governor of HM young offender institution Cookham Wood; and Sharon Gray OBE, an education consultant and former headteacher with experience of working with children with behavioural difficulties, including in residential settings.

The board will provide increased oversight, scrutiny and challenge of managerial arrangements, in particular in relation to the safeguarding of young people. Board members will have authority to visit any part of the site at any time, access records at Medway and interview children during their investigations. The board will report any concerns about the provision of services at Medway to me. The board’s work will assist me in determining the necessary improvements that G4S must make to restore confidence that young people are properly safeguarded at the STC.

The terms of reference for the independent improvement board are to:

investigate the safeguarding arrangements at Medway in order to inform the development and approval of the improvement plan to be produced by G4S and any steps to be taken by the Youth Justice Board (YJB) and other organisations;

oversee, challenge and support G4S in implementing their improvement plan;

report to the Secretary of State on the Board’s confidence in the capability of G4S, YJB and other organisations to meet appropriate safeguarding standards at Medway STC in the future, and the performance and monitoring arrangements required to provide assurance; and

submit any recommendations on the safeguarding of young people in custody, including the role of the YJB and other organisations, to inform practice in the wider youth custodial estate and Charlie Taylor’s review of the youth justice system.

The board will complete its work by the end of March 2016.