Preventing offending: getting it right for children and young people

Our Youth Justice strategy for Scotland, for 2015 to 2020.


Advancing the Whole System Approach

There will be a strategic focus on:
  • Integration and sustainability as part of Community Planning
  • Improving practice aligned with implementation of the 2014 Act
  • Timely and effective interventions to minimise the number of children in the Criminal Justice System and formal processes
  • Assessing and managing risk and complexity for the small number of young people posing the greatest risk to themselves and others

Since 2011 the Whole System Approach ( WSA) has provided a clear focus on:

  • Early and effective intervention ( EEI)
  • Opportunities to divert young people from prosecution
  • Court support
  • Community alternatives to secure care and custody
  • Managing high risk, including changing behaviours of those in secure care and custody
  • Improving reintegration back into the community

The WSA has been developed and implemented on a voluntary basis, supported by seed funding for local partners. The intention has always been that WSA should be embedded in local planning arrangements and practice. We will maintain and intensify our commitment to sustaining the WSA in the period to 2020.

WSA has made a significant contribution to the progress made in dealing effectively with youth offending - as demonstrated by the recent independent evaluation of WSA by the Scottish Centre for Crime and Justice Research.

Key findings of the evaluation:

  • WSA has been a galvanising factor in driving improvements in partnership working, information-sharing and shared learning across agencies and in turn improving outcomes for children and young people.
  • Flexibility in implementing WSA across local authority areas may be necessary to adapt to different conditions and local demands, including variations in local authority size, scale and structure.

Areas for improvement:

  • Some areas may benefit from greater consistency, including eligibility criteria for services through individual agency criteria (for example in relation to children on supervision).
  • Diversion from prosecution is inconsistent across the three areas and may function more effectively if the default position was diversion.
  • The long term sustainability of WSA in any given authority is predicated upon staff expertise and their dedication to the WSA ethos, as well as diversifying its sources of influence. 'Buy-in' to WSA policy and practice cannot be assumed; ongoing work is required to sustain WSA values across and within partner agencies at all levels.

The evaluation confirms that the principles of WSA remain the right ones. It is clear that sustained commitment is needed from national and local partners to build on the achievements to date.

While this strategy focuses on the approach for under 18's, aspects of youth justice provision now extend to under 21's in some local authority areas and this is an encouraging trend. The key priority is to ensure that children and young people receive appropriate services which help to address and minimise offending and improve life chances.

WSA is not being formally extended to age 21 at this stage, but as part of Community Planning arrangements local partners should consider the most suitable arrangements for young people involved in offending. A joined up approach involving children's, youth and criminal justice services is particularly important. This includes close alignment with work on looked after children, corporate parenting and community justice as well as other related policies and programmes.

The minimum age of criminal responsibility remains under active consideration and as part of the WSA to youth justice there is a multi-agency commitment to promoting the rights and wellbeing of children and young people.

Integration and sustainability as part of Community Planning

Ensuring effective integration of youth justice as a priority area into children service's planning and wider Community Planning, including community justice, will be a key task for national and local partners to 2020.

WSA has played a significant role in creating the conditions for young people to address most offending behaviour in a direct, focused way. This can be effective in preventing further offending and frees up resources for the Criminal Justice System to deal with the most serious high risk cases.

The Future Model for Community Justice in Scotland will mark a transition from Community Justice Authorities to an integrated planning model as part of Community Planning Partnerships. As part of the next phase of WSA, available resources will be applied on a strategic basis to support partners to develop, sustain and improve WSA.

We will:

  • Encourage and support WSA leaders and practitioners to promote good practice and highlight the benefits achieved through this approach
  • Support partners to embed preventing offending work in Community Planning following changes in Community Justice
  • Ensure that resources are targeted on a strategic basis from 2016 to support the next phase of WSA
  • Integrate findings from the WSA evaluation and implement arrangements from the end of 2015

Improving practice

WSA embodies the principles of GIRFEC and represents an example of a preventative, multi-agency approach focussing on improved outcomes for children and young people. However, the implementation of the 2014 Act will require aspects of WSA processes to be updated. Ensuring integration of the role of the Named Person and the Child's Plan are particular priorities before summer 2016.

Some children will need more intensive interventions, which may represent a 'targeted intervention' in terms of the 2014 Act, depending on the services available in a local authority area. A universal service in one area may be a targeted intervention in another area based on the population and the frequency that the service is required. A Child's Plan will always be required if a targeted intervention is involved. Specific youth justice services such as diversion from prosecution and some forms of EEI are likely to be a targeted intervention.

Timely and effective interventions

First contact
As the first point of contact Police Scotland play a key role in shaping the perceptions of children, young people and their families about the role of the police. As well as protecting communities, Police Scotland lead important work on risk and concern which helps to ensure an integrated approach to child wellbeing is put in place.

Consensual, or non-statutory, stop and search involving under 12s has been ended by Police Scotland and a presumption against consensual stop and search for all people has been introduced where a statutory alternative exists. An independent advisory group on stop and search has been established to consider the longer term policy and will make recommendations to Scottish Ministers by the end of August 2015.

Police Scotland are also concluding a review of Standard Operating Procedures in respect of youth crime and are committed to supporting the approach outlined in this strategy.

Early and Effective Intervention ( EEI)
Many types of offences are now being dealt with through local EEI processes which ensure young people receive proportionate and timely support to tackle and improve their behaviour. EEI support does not result in a criminal conviction though could be considered relevant information as part of an enhanced disclosure to protect vulnerable groups.

EEI disposals can include police direct measures and a referral to an intervention to change behaviour for example an alcohol or substance misuse project. Wherever possible, children are helped to address their behaviour within their communities.

Diversion from prosecution is a national scheme for offenders of all ages, but a central tenet of WSA is the targeting of 16 and 17 year old offenders who have committed a relatively minor crime and whose prosecution is not in the public interest. A young person's eligibility for diversion is at the discretion of the Procurator Fiscal, the rationale being that a diversionary intervention will have a more positive impact in reducing future offending behaviour, hence improving future life chances.

Diversion schemes can be commissioned by a local authority from third sector organisations, or delivered by social work services. Most adopt a deferred prosecution model whereby prosecution is suspended until the young person has completed the diversion programme. There may be individual and group work involved depending on the offence and the needs of the young person, and sessions can cover a range of areas such as addressing the impact of the offending behaviour, alcohol and drug use, education, employability, and social skills.

The WSA evaluation has recommended a presumption in favour of diversion from prosecution for appropriate offences, which is consistent with existing good practice.


Timely and appropriate interventions

Improving how and when justice works for children and young people can also impact on the effectiveness of interventions. When children are involved in offending it is especially important to ensure that any necessary formal proceedings are commenced as soon as possible.

The Council of Europe Guidelines on Child-friendly Justice [10] state that children's cases should be dealt with as speedily as possible to protect the best interests of the child as well as promoting the rights of people harmed. Where possible, cases should also be rolled up to be dealt with at the one time. This helps minimise disruption to the interventions to change behaviour.

We will:

  • Maximise the opportunities for diversion from the Criminal Justice System and formal processes to respond swiftly and bring action on offending much closer to the offence and to encourage greater use of diversion across the Criminal Justice System
  • Minimise delay in proceedings involving children. Continue to improve the exchange of information between COPFS and SCRA in relation to jointly reported cases involving children
  • Explore opportunities with the Judiciary, COPFS, the Scottish Courts and Tribunals Service and SCRA to deliver on the Council of Europe Directive on Child- friendly justice to enable more cases to be remitted from court to Children's Hearings. Options will include joint training sessions and improved access to resources

Assessing and managing risk and complexity

To improve outcomes for children involved in offending, the system must deliver in a responsive manner; however EEI and diversion are not appropriate for all. High quality assessment is the first step in identifying which children and young people require services and the type and intensity of service provision they require.

Integrated assessment supports a holistic understanding of the events, environment and situations surrounding individual children. In certain cases, that needs to be aided by more specialised assessments of complexity and risk.

A needs-led approach to assessment in response to levels of risk and complexity presented by children is appropriate. Where it is identified that issues are more complex, continue to cause concern or may require a more formal or compulsory approach, then the child should be referred to the Children's Hearings System to consider compulsory supervision.

A focus is required on evidence based practice, national standards and practice guidance to continue to promote the identification, assessment and management of children and young people who offend who have complex needs. The impact of intensive interventions with children, young people and families is being assessed as part of wider work on preventative spend relating to justice. This includes Public Social Partnerships and complements the Reducing Reoffending Programme.

Safe and secure
Secure care continues to be needed for a small number of young people who present the highest risk to themselves or others. The secure care criteria is set out in the Secure Accommodation (Scotland) Regulations 2013 [11] and relate to the likelihood of absconding and/or risk to welfare, self-harming conduct and/or causing injury to another person. Alternatives to secure can include Movement Restriction Conditions and intensive wraparound family interventions.

We recognise the on-going need for good quality secure care which helps improve outcomes for children with highly complex needs. Consideration should also be given to alternatives to remand, taking account of assessments of risk, wellbeing and the impact of short term use of custody. This may include alternative means of monitoring and supervision while ensuring public safety.

We will:

  • Continue to seek to reduce the number of children in secure care and custody including through safe community based alternatives
  • Build on good practice to improve outcomes for children in secure care
  • Ensure action to divert children and young people from serious organised crime - linking with strategy on serious organised crime
  • Encourage alternatives to remand where possible while ensuring community safety


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