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

VANESSA O’DARE (Manchester Youth Offending Team)

VANESSA O’DARE (Manchester Youth Offending Team)

Vanessa O'Dare

AWARD WINNER 2018-19: Vanessa is an Operational Manager for the Manchester Youth Offending Team. She is granted an Award for identifying a gap in provision for special educational needs and disability, and then developing and implementing a suite of work that has transformed delivery in this area.
[This Award is sponsored by Mite Care & Custody.]

Initial Nominator and Performance and Quality Assurance Manager, Mark Brundrett, explains that Vanessa is, among other responsibilities, ‘leading the strategic work on Education, Training and Employment within the service’. This work has involved a wide range of activities designed to embed enhanced practice across a complex sector and many partners. Mark cites a few examples of how Vanessa has implemented improved ways of working, including:

Speech and Language Therapy (SALT) provision: Vanessa measured (with the help of teams) the numbers of children with communication difficulties and made a successful business case for SALT provision within the service.

That Reading Thing: Vanessa introduced this literacy programme into the teams, and arranged training and provided literacy support for young people who needed it.

The Manchester Growth Company: Two workers who were commissioned from this organisation are managed by Vanessa and support young people not in education or employment to consider options, prepare CVs and attend interviews for courses, training or jobs.

Education Psychologists: Through her strong relationship with key managers in Education, Vanessa has secured additional support for children in Youth Justice, many of who have learning difficulties and require professional assessment and interventions.

Drama Therapy: Vanessa has developed this service with professionally trained psychotherapists to engage effectively with some of the most challenged and challenging young people, most of whom have experienced significant trauma in their early lives.

Pupil Referral Unit (PRU) offering Alternative Education provision. She has built a strong working link with the largest secondary PRU in the city, developed an information sharing agreement about children known to both Services and agreed a working protocol with the Headteacher to work together to keep children out of the criminal justice system by diverting or accessing suitable services.

Special Education Needs and Disability (SEND): Vanessa and her team have raised the profile of the need to get accurate assessments for those children with SEND as well as Education and Health Care Plans put in place to provide support and appropriate interventions.’

Vanessa’s nomination papers could add dozens more examples to Mark’s list of activities, but it is clear that ‘her work in this field has been outstanding and she has made considerable difference to the lives of many children who have been inspired and encouraged to be more ambitious in their plans for the future.’

Butler Trust Local Champion and the Head of Youth Justice, Marie McLaughlin, agrees, praising Vanessa’s ‘great work and leadership on education, training and employment as well as Special Education Needs and Disability.’ Marie adds that Vanessa is leading the Service’s drive to achieve a Quality Mark for the work on SEND, and that Manchester Youth Justice was recently recognised as the ‘Youth Justice Service of the Year’ in the national ‘Shine a Light Awards’ held in London, in March 2018, for the work with young people to improve education and communication skills – and  Vanessa’s work was to the forefront in this.’

Marie says that Vanessa ‘has also inspired those within the Youth Justice Service to encourage young people to engage in education and take up the offers of support to improve their outcomes,’ and explains that ‘many of the Youth Justice officers have trained as Literacy Tutors whilst others have had the ELKLAN training to improve their recognition of Speech and Language problems and to find ways to address these.’

A wide range of senior colleagues contributed their own testimonials. Julie Hicklin, SEND Lead, Directorate for Children and Families, Manchester City Council, wrote, ‘I am really impressed at how enthusiastically Vanessa and her colleagues in the Youth Justice Service have embraced training around SEND, and how committed she and the team are to achieving the national SEND quality framework for Youth Justice.’

Sarah Davey, a Speech and Language Therapist at the Salford Royal Foundation Trust, wrote that ‘the multi-agency work with Vanessa and the team and Speech and Language Therapy is influencing the outcomes for young people and their future education,’ while Helen McAndrew, Headteacher at Manchester Secondary Pupil Referral Unit (PRU), praised Vanessa’s ‘calm support and advice, and her willingness to take learning back to her agency, has enabled high quality professional conversations’, and called her ‘a great ambassador for Manchester Youth Justice Team.’

Paul Marshall, Strategic Director for Education and Children’s Services at Manchester City Council, and Chair of Manchester Youth Justice Management Board, wrote that:

‘Vanessa has been leading thematic problem solving and learning events for the Youth Justice Management Board in respect of young people with additional education and learning needs; these sessions have been well thought through and achieved the securing of additional resources from partners; because ‘they believe in Vanessa’. Feedback from young people is positive in terms of the positive impact on experiences and opportunities; as evidenced by a increase in young people in and education, employment setting.’

Julie Heslop, Strategic Lead on Early Help and Youth Justice, praised Vanessa’a partnership work, citing ‘feedback from partners (especially Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service and PRU)’ has ‘highlighted Vanessa’s strong commitment to collaborative working in relation to ensuring young people who require a SEND offer are identified and supported,’ and praised Vanessa’s ‘tenacity and strong sense of purpose’.

Vanessa describes herself as ‘passionate about the importance of education’ and understands that it’s ‘a key factor to reducing offending.’ She lists over three dozen discrete streams of work that she has orchestrated to deliver an enhanced provision across the board by Manchester’s Youth Offending Team: it’s a sobering reminder that strategy, tactics, training, systems and protocols are often the bedrock of delivering sustainable and meaningful change.

Her list begins with ‘Clear screening processes for communication needs & dyslexia at Induction stage’ and ‘Processes in Court to identify any potential needs, concerns or vulnerabilities so that these are communicated at the point of allocation’ and continues through further tools, training, sharing of training, raising of awareness at various events and so on.

In short, she perceived a real gap in provision for many younger people – and area of significant vulnerability – and set about filling it with remarkable skill and tenacity, and the change she has wrought is now being seen and felt across many, many young lives.

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