Policy actions  1 of 3

Whole system approach to young offending

The Whole System Approach (WSA) is our programme for addressing the needs of young people involved in offending.

It's underpinned by Getting it Right for Every Child, which aims to ensure that support for children and young people puts their – and their family's – needs first.

Practitioners need to work together to support families, and take early action at the first signs of any difficulty. So they're not getting involved after a situation has already reached crisis point.

WSA highlights the importance of different organisations and professions working together to support children and young people.

It offers tailored support and management based on individual needs, and takes into account differing backgrounds and demographics.

This doesn't mean that crimes committed by children and young people go unpunished. Children and young people can still be prosecuted if the offence is serious enough to be dealt with at court, if they are over 12.

Children can also receive support and supervision through the Children's Hearings System in relation to their offending behaviour as well as other behavioural and care concerns. 

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

Early and effective intervention

The police take a flexible approach to offending by young people. This helps prevent future offending or antisocial behaviour by providing timely and proportionate interventions, and alerting other agencies to concerns about the child or young person's behaviour and well-being.

Opportunities to divert young people from prosecution

Bringing young people into the criminal justice system for low-level offences often results in increased offending.

Offering alternatives to formal prosecution can change young people's behaviour. This includes programmes that provide support to change behaviour.

Court support

We aim to keep as many young people out of the criminal justice system. We also want to improve the experiences and the support received by those who do enter the system.

Community alternatives to secure care and custody

Community alternatives can be more effective than placing young people in secure care, or a Young Offenders Institution.

Managing young people who present a risk of harm

This includes working with the small number of young people who need to be placed in secure care or custody.

Improving integration back into the community

Supporting integration from secure care and custody back into society is important to reduce reoffending.

Children and young people leaving secure care and custody should have a package of support detailed in a Child's Plan to help them successfully integrate back into their communities.

WSA has been rolled out across Scotland on a voluntary basis. We have supported local authorities to embed WSA's principles into their practice, and as part of the implementation of our Youth Justice Strategy. We will continue to do this.

Guidance documents

The following guidance has been produced to support local areas to implement a whole system approach when they're dealing with young people involved in offending.

Alternatives to Secure Care and Custody: written for local authorities and community planning partners. It promotes the use of alternative services to secure care and custody through appropriate risk and need assessments, and by providing decision makers with accurate information.

Reintegration and Transitions for Young Offenders: 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 help ensure their 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.

Diversion from prosecution for young people under 18 - toolkit: offers guidance to service providers and decision makers on providing a more effective, tailored and appropriate diversion from prosecution for young people who offend.

Assisting young people aged 16 to 17 in court - toolkit: The purpose of this toolkit, developed with the judiciary and Scottish court service, is to share best practice. It also helps 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.

These guidance documents are being reviewed and updated.