Design proposals for a first-of-its-kind specialist Children’s Care and Justice Campus in Northern Ireland will be developed following the publication of a report by the Department of Health.

It has been agreed that implementation of the report’s 10 recommendations will be taken forward jointly by the Departments of Health and Justice and will start with the development of design proposals for a new campus in Bangor, County Down.

The report reviewed the provision of services at four regional specialist children’s facilities in Northern Ireland – the Regional Secure Care Centre at Lakewood, Bangor, the Juvenile Justice Centre at Woodlands, Bangor, the Donard residential facility at Glenmona in West Belfast, and the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Unit at Beechcroft, South Belfast – and how the facilities connected with each other and the movement of children and young people between them.

The key recommendation relates to the establishment of a joint Care and Justice Campus on the Lakewood and Woodlands sites. The report also acknowledges and recommends reform within wider children’s residential care with an emphasis on empowerment and enablement. This includes making decisions about the future of the Donard facility at Glenmona.

The report also recommends that the campus should have: a unified management structure; clear admissions criteria established in law; a single decision-making panel with an independent chair, which will oversee entry to and exit from the campus; and shared / integrated service provision, including education, addictions, mental health, and detoxification services.

A trigger for the review was growing concern that children and young people in care, often with the most complex needs, were spending periods of time within each of the facilities and sometimes experiencing repeat admissions and moving from one to the other.

It’s also anticipated that the work of the campus will be underpinned by robust legislative and standards frameworks. The findings of the review and its recommendations align with the outcome of a scoping study undertaken by the Department of Justice, which concluded that there was a need to repurpose Woodlands to provide support to children with psychiatric, substance misuse, and behavioural problems.

A dedicated team is being established to take that work forward and a Programme Management structure, jointly chaired by senior officials in both departments, is being assembled. Key stakeholders will be fully engaged as part of the process, in particular, staff currently working in the Lakewood and Woodlands facilities and their management teams. A three-and-a-half-year time-frame has been set for full implementation of the report’s recommendations.

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