Youth offending team helps heal victims' woundsBy Lewis Rudd
October 19, 2010
Wokingham’s Youth Offending Service celebrated its fourth birthday last week with an open day at The Old School House in Reading Road.
Lewis Rudd spoke with the service’s leader to learn more about the work it carries out with young offenders in the borough and how it is striving to keep them away from a life of crime.
A service offering help, support and a second chance to young offenders in Wokingham celebrated its fourth birthday last week with a meet and greet.
The Wokingham Youth Offending Service (YOS) invited the wider community to its home in Reading Road on Monday afternoon for a slice of cake and a chat about the rehabilitation work it does with those who are on the receiving end of a court order.
The service works with young people who have been punished for their misdemeanours.
Working with between 60 and 80 people a time, and alongside partners such as Thames Valley Police, Connexions and local Primary Care Trusts (PCT), the team in Wokingham aims to offer public protection and a healthy return to the community for each young person.
And since setting up in Wokingham, following its split from Reading Borough Council in 2006, the service has gone from strength to strength, recently celebrating an excellent inspection from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate (HMI).
Claire O’Leary, head of the Wokingham YOS, explained how the service works with a wide range of young offenders from across the borough on projects ranging from grounds maintenance to litter picks and removing graffiti.
However, she feels the most productive element of the service is the opportunity it provides for victims to come face-to-face with those who have brought hurt or distress to their lives.
Mrs O’Leary said: “It helps the healing process for the victim because it allows them to ask questions like ‘why me?’ and ‘will you ever come and do it again?’.
“We want to allow the opportunity for victims of these crimes to come and confront these people. It brings a touch of reality to the situation when the offender realises the victim is an 80-year-old woman or the mother of a young family.
“I believe it is a really powerful process because it also allows the offender to realise what they have done and is a chance for them to say sorry.
“It also allows the victim to make them repay for what they have done by saying, ‘can you do X, Y or Z for me?’.
“I would describe the popularity of this service as half and half with victims; some want to use it and some don’t – but it would be nice for more victims to take it up because it is very powerful.”
She explained how a lot of the day-to-day work carried out by those handed reparation orders include completing chores at Dinton Pastures country park in Hurst, local leisure centres and churches.
Some are assigned tasks with Wokingham Borough Council’s community wardens or are asked to paint railings and help spruce up communal areas.
The YOS also has an Early Prevention Team, which works with young people who are considered at risk of entering the criminal justice system and offering them alternative avenues to explore.
Mrs O’Leary explained how the service was required to go through its own rehabilitation process after being labelled inadequate by HMI following its split from Reading Borough Council and its move to Wokingham Borough Council.
Speaking about the four years in the borough, she said: “During this time there have been two major inspections from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate.
“The service moved from a team of five to a multi-agency team employing 20 people and working with between 60 and 80 people at one time.
“We were recently inspected and described as performing excellently, which is fantastic news and is a real tribute to the team, who have worked hard, so it is pleasing to be rewarded.
“We will continue to make Wokingham the best place for growing up.”