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Whole System Approach for Young People Who Offend

The Whole System Approach (WSA) is the Scottish Government’s programme for addressing the needs of young people involved in offending. Underpinned by Getting it Right for Every Child, this ensures that anyone providing support puts the child or young person – and their family – at the centre. Practitioners need to work together to support families, and take early action at the first signs of any difficulty – rather than only getting involved when a situation has already reached crisis point.

WSA highlights the importance of supporting children and young people in a multi-agency, multi-discipline basis and aims to put in place tailored support and management based on the needs of each individual child including their often differing backgrounds and demographics. This does not, however, mean that crimes committed by children and young people go unpunished. Children and young people can still be prosecuted if the offence is sufficiently serious to be dealt with on indictment or can be dealt with by the Children’s Hearings System.

Since 2011 the approach has provided a clear focus on the following areas:

Early and effective intervention

Where young people come to the attention of the police they take a flexible approach to offending behaviour. The objective is to prevent future offending or antisocial behaviour by providing interventions which are timely and proportionate whilst at the same time alerting other agencies to concerns which exist about the child or young person’s behaviour and well-being. The police and other agencies including social work, health, education and others, share information in relation to their own contact with the young person and jointly decide on the best response to support the person and their family to address any needs or risks. By working together, it is possible to provide support tailored to their needs, helping them to turn their lives around quickly.

Opportunities to divert young people from prosecution

Bringing young people into the criminal justice system early for low level offences often results in increased offending. Providing opportunities to divert them from formal prosecution can change the behaviour of young people. We are working with local authorities, the Crown Office and Prosecutor Fiscal Service to identify young people reported for low level offences and divert them into programmes that provide support which addresses their behaviour.

Court support

While the intention is to keep as many young people out of the formal court process, for those young people who do go through the court process we hope to improve the young person’s engagement with the courts and the support they receive. Including improving the information for courts dealing with young people, ensuring they have a greater understanding of the needs of young people. This also focusses on the range of disposals available as an alternative to custody including options around bail and remand.

Community alternatives to secure care and custody

Research has shown that placing sentenced young people in secure care or prison for low level offences is more likely to increase their likelihood to re-offend. Robust community alternatives can be more effective. When a young person is kept in their community, it is important that appropriate risk assessment and management procedures are in place, alongside intensive support and supervision including, in some cases, electronic monitoring to ensure community safety.

Managing high risk, including changing behaviours of those in secure care and custody

It is important to identify effective ways of working with high risk young people involved in offending. A small number of young people require to be placed in secure care or custody. The secure care providers work with the young person to improve their outcomes. This is done by encouraging behavioural changes, increasing their engagement with learning, education and health care.

Improving reintegration back into the community

Supporting reintegration from secure care and custody back into society is vitally important to reduce reoffending. Children and young people leaving secure care and custody should have a package of support detailed in their Child’s Plan to help them re-integrate successfully.

WSA has been rolled out across Scotland on a voluntary basis. The Scottish Government have supported local authorities to embed the principles of WSA in practice and as part of the Implementation of the new Youth Justice Strategy will continue to do so.

The following suite of guidance has been produced to support local areas in implementing a whole system approach in dealing with young people involved in offending (this guidance will be reviewed and updated, as necessary, throughout 2016):

  • Alternatives to Secure Care and Custody: written for local authorities and community planning partners and promotes the use of alternative service to secure care and custody; through appropriate risk and need assessments and providing decision makers with accurate information.
  • Reintegration and Transitions: focuses on the role of local authorities, community planning partners, SPS, secure estate and partners. The guidance highlights the importance of supporting young people throughout their time in secure care or custody to ensure a successful reintegration back to communities.

  • Framework for Risk Assessment and Management of young people: Guidance for the assessment and management of young people who present a risk of harm through sexually harmful and/or violent behaviour.

  • Toolkit for Diversion from Prosecution for young people under 18: This toolkit offers guidance to service providers and decision makers on what they need to do to provide a more effective, tailored and appropriate intervention - in the form of diversion from prosecution - for young people who offend. View the annexes that accompany the toolkit.

  • Toolkit to support Young People aged 16-17 in Court: The purpose of this toolkit, developed in conjunction with the judiciary and Scottish court service, is to share the best practice which has emerged, and to assist those who are involved with young people under 18 who are appearing in court, to develop efficient and effective local approaches to handling these cases.


A Guide to Youth Justice in Scotland

The Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice's guide to youth justice in Scotland is a resource aimed at practitioners and managers who work with children and young people who offend or who are at risk of offending.