Article 40 © copyright to the Community Law Centre, University of the Western Cape

Training in North West Province Leads the Way

Over the period October 2001 until May 2002, a group of presenters have been conducting intersectoral training on child justice in preparation for implementation of assessment centres, child justice processes and ultimately the Child Justice Bill. Contracted by the forward- looking provincial Department of Social Services, Arts, Culture and Sport, the brief to the trainers was to ensure a restorative justice focus, and ensure that the training was practice orientated. Early on, the decision was also made to extend the training programme outside the Department's target group of social workers and probation officers, and to invite participation from SAPS, prosecutors and magistrates. Due to space constraints, and so as to ensure individualised sessions, only 55 places were available of which 30 were allocated to the social work contingent; however, fair representation of other role players in the overall mix was also obtained.

Not wanting to remove key roleplayers from their offices and courts for extended periods of time led to a decision to phase the training in one, two or three day slots over a period of six months. The risk with this approach is that people may move on, drop out and fail for other reasons to complete in the programme. Happily, however, this did not materialise to any great extent, and at the conclusion of the programme nearly 50 certificates of completion were awarded. In hindsight, spreading the training over this period provided an important benefit: it enabled participants to practice their newly learnt skills while the programme was still underway, to pick up problems which could be discussed, to conduct their own training of other stakeholders in their magisterial districts, and last but not least, to learn to work inter-sectorally on the ground back home. Indeed many important agreements between probation and courts seem to have been negotiated after the first session or two, and the improvement in inter-sectoral relationships was specifically noted by most participants as a highlight of the training.

Structure of the modules

The training was divided into six modules with the starting point being to identify the objectives and participant expectations. People had come from widely differing settings, and with different points of reference as well as different levels of prior experience with child justice related work. So, in keeping with the provincial footprint, there were participants from deep rural areas, as well as small towns situated in large, spread out farming districts. By contrast, big mining towns such as Rustenburg, Klerksdorp, Potchefstroom and Brits were also represented. Then we had amongst our trainees probation officers with decades of specialised experience, as well as people with little prior knowledge of any aspect of child justice - but they certainly did not lack enthusiasm and interest!

The accompanying table illustrates the basic format of the six modules, with the longest session being devoted to the implementation of restorative justice and family group conferencing. For this module, the three day initial session on theory, philosophy and practice of restorative justice was followed by mentoring of the probation officers and social workers who it was hoped would be able to implement FGC's in practice; after this, a wrap up day was held to share experiences and learning from the field.

The session on courtroom practice was presented (by an experienced ex-magistrate) only for the social workers and probation officers on the course. In retrospect, the level of inter-sectoral collaboration that had emerged by that time, led to the decided view on the part of participants that this module should also have included everyone, and that much shared learning could have taken place had this occurred!

Although each module was evaluated independently as part of an ongoing monitoring of the effectiveness of the training content and materials, the suitability and effectiveness of the trainers and the structure of each particular module, the really telling moment arrived when activity six required that an overall assessment of the training and it's impact be conducted. The day took the form of informal 'report backs' by participants about how they coped with implementation in their own districts. So inspiring were the tales that were told that day that we have asked some of our innovators to write up some of the stories for reproduction here in Article 40, and these contributions appear here in our feature issue on the North West Province. It must also be said though, that these are but a small sample of the successes and advances that were profiled on that day. And, even where, in some regions, less measurable success has been achieved, there can be no doubt that the training has led to a commitment to start the processes on their way, to 'cascade' training to local level, and to improve inter-sectoral relationships in such a way that delivery of child justice services can commence.

Here are some extracts from the participants' assessments of the overall training package:

On content of the training

"A vast number of issues were covered?They also clearly spelt out the working relationships between partners and stakeholders with the view of seeing that children's rights are protected."

On whether successful skills development occurred

"I learned to sharpen my skills, and am able to use them during assessment, victim offender mediation and family group conferencing programmes."

On whether the training as a whole enabled participants to meet their personal objectives

"I started attending this course in the hope of getting new ideas for diversion. I got so much more. It gave me a new look and view on the way I render my service and even triggered the interest for research in this fairly new "service view" in South Africa. You certainly enriched my life and I must thank you for that."

Gaps identified in the training programme as a whole

"Other stakeholders dealing with young offenders should be trained."

Areas that need more/less attention during the training structure

"Court room practice should be extended to other sectors in terms of training."

The Department - and Miche Sepeng and Rishi Moonilal in particular -deserve accolades for having taken the first steps to ensure that training and implementation go hand in hand.

Overall Training Programme