Celebrating and promoting the best in UK prisons, probation and youth justice

JIM ELDER (Highland Council Youth Justice Team)

JIM ELDER (Highland Council Youth Justice Team)

Jim Elder

COMMENDEE 2022-23: Jim receives a Commendation for his remarkable talent and tenacity, and his warm and caring approach, as a Youth Justice Social Worker in Inverness, putting “his heart and soul” into everything he does, and “going the extra 100 miles” when needed on behalf of the young people in his care.

Jim Elder is a Youth Justice Social Worker in Inverness who his initial nominator says works ‘tirelessly’ and with ‘vigour and passion’ to build relationships with his young people – or his ‘bairns’ as he calls them! He sees his ‘corporate parent’ responsibility as extremely important. One example was visiting one of his bairns on Christmas Day: ‘a young lad in residential care who didn’t have his own family not out of any sense of obligation, ‘but out of a want to be there for the young person.’

His nominator adds of Jim that ‘he does not give up!’ – because he doesn’t tend to take ‘no’ for an answer when he can see a young person’s needs, and has been known to spend ‘days away travelling across Scotland’ to prisons ‘to ensure he has seen them face to face and he has a sense of what the young person needs and wants.’

An army veteran who had studied to be a social worker as a mature student, Jim has a knack for putting young people ‘at ease’ which he combines with ‘genuine interest and care’. Jim has taken on the mantle of ‘dad’ within the team, combining being ‘very down to earth’ with ‘a warmth’ that shows he genuinely cares about his ‘bairns.’ Jim has also pushed colleagues, ‘sometimes uncomfortably’, to understand how children caught up in drug use and offending ‘are being groomed into this lifestyle through fear and intimidation and at times they do not know this is happening to them.’

A number of powerful testimonials reinforce his reputation. Callum Reilly, a Child and Youth Care Worker at Kibble Secure Centre, says of Jim’s work with one young person that he ‘really does care about him and this is reciprocated from the young person’, who has ‘nothing but good to say about him and that he really has a lot of time for him and knows he wants the best for him.’ Callum adds:

‘I have worked with a lot of social workers in my time in Kibble and Jim really is up there with one of the good guys who clearly has had a big impact on the young person I work with so I can only imagine how many others he has done the same for.’

Meanwhile Carol-Ann Crossan, a Children’s Services Manager for Barnardos, says Jim ‘puts his heart and soul’ into the work and cites, as just one example, spending evenings with a young person who had been in crisis and needed the support of his ‘person.’ She adds that Jim doesn’t just go the extra mile, ‘he goes the extra 100 miles.’ Carol-Ann further praises Jim’s approach during Covid-19 where he ensured he was visible and available to a young person who had no family and who identified Jim as a father figure as ‘a living example of the aspirations and principles of The Promise[“Scotland’s promise to care experienced children and young people is that they will grow up loved, safe, and respected”] being embraced and embedded.’

Although not directly tasked with each child in their care, Carol-Ann says she can ‘honestly say’ that:

‘All [the children] at different times voiced that they wished Jim was their social worker and this is undoubtably due to them witnessing Jim going above and beyond. Regardless of the obstacles that have arisen, Jim has always given 100% and with this support he has managed to help a young person who has achieved more than he ever thought was possible, and has felt safe, secure and loved in a world which has not always been kind to him. Without Jim’s support, commitment and genuine care I believe we would have had a different outcome for this young person.’

Jim, not untypically for Butler Trust winners, makes an effort to point to his colleagues, calling himself ‘extremely fortunate to work in the most incredible, passionate, and caring team that works
hard to support Young People (and their families) where our bairns are either involved with or on the cusp of offending/substance misuse and exploitation.’ He adds that:

‘Some of our children have no family, have no one to care for them and often feel alone, and for them, being part of something negative is better than being part of nothing at all. We have to present and promote that positive destination and working out alongside our children and young people what that positive may/could look like, and then try where possible to support that positive pathway, we have to be there for them.’

As a team, he says, they try to give their bairns:

‘the strength to be the best they can be, and to always try where possible to empower that journey, to never give up, even when things seem hopeless, trying always to shield our bairns from being criminalised for the rest of their lives from an early age, for many they are unable to escape what they have become embroiled in without crucial support from our team.’

Jim adds that his role also requires him ‘to be the voice’ for many children in the Criminal Justice System ‘which is a terrifying place for children and young people to be, particularly those having suffered at the hands of exploitation and trauma.’ He adds that, as a team, ‘we have a relentless focus’ on making sure that ‘the voices of those that need our support and guidance’ are heard ‘as there is a real risk that our Children and Young People end up getting lost with no hope for the future, and that is not okay.’