Youth justice

Policy actions  1 of 4

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.

These guidance documents are being reviewed and updated.

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