NI: Plans for care and justice campus ‘lack clarity’
Plans for a new joint “care and justice campus” for children and young people lack clarity and should have involved more consultation with children and young people, the Children’s Law Centre (CLC) has said.
A consultation was launched last October on proposals for a new combined campus incorporating the existing Lakewood Regional Secure Care Centre and Woodlands Juvenile Justice Centre.
In its consultation response, the CLC said the current arrangements are “not fit for purpose as they are not compliant with international human rights standards and therefore adversely impacting on children and young people in secure care and in the juvenile justice system”.
However, the law centre said it is “concerned that the proposals contained within the consultation document focus heavily on the existing structures already in place, rather than a comprehensive, wide-ranging and meaningful examination of what services are required and where”.
The document “fails to provide any detail on how the two different regimes … will be integrated, nor is there any detail on how the two populations will mix within the new regional care and justice campus”, it said.
The CLC also linked the aim to reduce the number of children entering secure accommodation to funding for mental health services and the age of criminal responsibility in Northern Ireland, which is 10.
It pointed out that children and young people make up around 25 per cent of the population in Northern Ireland, and around 27 per cent have mental health needs, but the budget for Children and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) is less than nine per cent of the total mental health budget.
“Without adequate funding for community-based services for children and young people in Northern Ireland, the objective of the regional campus and the aim to reduce the number of children entering secure accommodation will ultimately fail,” the CLC warned.
It urged action to raise the age of criminal responsibility, currently “one of the lowest in the world”, and raised concerns about how services for children younger than 10 will be managed alongside older children who have arrived “via the justice route of admission”.
The CLC also raised concern about the consultation running over Christmas and during a strict lockdown, making it “difficult for stakeholder organisations such as the Children’s Law Centre and others to meaningfully engage with children and young people on these proposals”.