Youth justice strategy: progress report

Report on the progress made since the publication of the youth justice strategy, 'Preventing offending: getting it right for children and young people', in 2015.

Progress, Impact and Influence since 2015

This is a complex area. Making sustained positive changes needs to involve a wide range of partners and contributors. Influencing local and national partners about the importance of a sustained, preventative approach based on the principles of the WSA as part of a GIRFEC practice model cannot be a one off activity. Consistent engagement in a variety of ways, backed by leadership and support, helps to sustain and embed a whole system, preventative approach to dealing with offending involving children and young people.

While there has been a substantial fall in offending and real success in keeping children and young people out of the justice system through prevention and diversionary work, the level of complexity, need and adverse childhood experiences associated with the much smaller number children and young people, still involved in the justice system, is greater. This impacts on the skills and knowledge needed amongst a diverse youth justice workforce.

On 5 May 2017, the YJIB met with the Justice Board to consider lessons from the WSA and key issues around children and young people in, and on the edges of, the justice system. There was a real energy and commitment to building on the connections between youth justice and the new Vision for Justice. The new Community Justice landscape puts a strong focus on person-centred approaches to preventing further offending which draws considerably on experience from children and young people.

The new Vision and Priorities for Justice in Scotland is to be published in July 2017. This will be evidence led and will reinforce that young people should be kept out of the criminal justice system as far as possible. The clear recognition of the importance of preventative work with children and young people is largely down to momentum fostered by the youth justice strategy and the YJIB partners. Community Justice will play a pivotal role when considering any expansion of the WSA and preventative approaches to older age groups.

Police Scotland have also prioritised a preventative approach focussing on keeping children and young people safe. Last autumn, Police Scotland launched Children and Young People: Our Approach which supports their 10 year strategy for Policing in Scotland.

The implementation of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016 will enhance protections for child and vulnerable adult suspects. Safeguarding and promoting the wellbeing of a child suspect will be a primary consideration for Police Scotland.

Key areas progressed under the Strategy through the Implementation Groups

Advancing Whole System Approach

Supporting Integration

Engagement has taken place with community based planning partners across Scotland to highlight the value of sustained commitment to a preventative approach to offending by young people.

Interventions to reduce the number of young people in formal systems

Information has been gathered around the use of EEI and diversion across the country - this information will be used to support good practice.

Refreshed WSA Guidance

WSA guidance was initially published in 2011. The guidance is currently being reviewed to reflect recent developments in practice and legislation.

Bail and remand

International literature and the Scottish context regarding current bail and remand practice has been researched. A paper reflecting the findings is being developed.

Promoting development of policy and practice

Research papers have been produced on key issues around the WSA, including: Young People in Court, Movement Restriction Conditions and Extending the WSA to 21.

Using data to drive improvement

Quarterly data reports are now provided by the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration ( SCRA) and Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service ( COPFS). They highlight trends in decision making including jointly reported cases, numbers of advice hearings and remittals to the Children's Hearings System. SCRA published research in June 2017 on remittals to children's hearings for advice and/or disposal.

Termination of Compulsory Supervision Orders ( CSOs)

Research by the Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice ( CYCJ), exploring young people's views, and experiences of the youth and criminal justice system has informed a renewed focus on addressing early termination of CSOs. SCRA are carrying out research in to home based CSOs and will report in 2018.

Independent review of secure care

Scottish Government funded a secure care national adviser role based at CYCJ. Secure Care in Scotland: Looking Ahead was published in November 2016 following extensive sector engagement including with young people. A Secure Care Strategic Board is being established later in 2017 which will complement the work of the Care Review being led by Fiona Duncan.

Chief Social Work Officers ( CSWO) and Secure Care

Research was published in May 2017 into CSWO perceptions, including experiences and role, and use of secure care and alternative services.

Improving Life Chances

School Inclusion

A paper drawing on the voice and experiences of young people was published in December 2016. The paper represents valuable support for practitioners working with young people who may be at risk of exclusion.

Strengthening relationships and engagement

A paper on the importance of relationships in improving Opportunities for All is being developed for publication in 2017.

Vulnerable girls and young women

Building on the successful Improving Practice for Girls training programme, a Scottish Qualifications Authority accredited training course is being developed for completion in September 2017.

Victims of youth crime

A scoping study into the provisions for young victims of youth crime was completed in May 2017, ancillary to the ongoing Bill work to increase the age of criminal responsibility.

Health and wellbeing

Information has been collated from young people involved in support services on what their health and wellbeing concerns and priorities are and the barriers to leading a healthy lifestyle. This information will inform those working with young people around support to address health and wellbeing needs.

Mental Health

Specific focus and recognition on the needs of young people and importance of additional support has been given to young people in the new Mental Health strategy.

Interventions for Vulnerable Youth ( IVY)

Funded by the Scottish Government, a specialist psychological and social work service has been set up to support children who pose a significant risk of harm to others. The IVY project helps improve understanding and management of the risks posed, as well as undertaking assessments and offering interventions.

Opportunities for All

The profile of young people who have offended has been raised with policy contacts and employers. Practical barriers to progressing to a positive destination have been highlighted by partners. An information sheet on universal credits has been produced for those working with young people on release from custody.


Links have been made to the Protection of Vulnerable Groups ( PVG) review and the alliance group which will focus on providing information, support and guidance for young people, employers, practitioners and the wider public on young people with convictions accessing training and employment. Improvements are being considered through the MACR Bill Programme Board, and will include discussions on the future disclosure of offending involving all under 18s.

Youth and Criminal Justice in Scotland: the young person's journey

The young person's journey resource for practitioners has been updated and a resource for young person is currently being co-produced with young people.

Children and young people in Custody

A data paper and accompanying narrative on what we know about young people in custody has been developed. This paper, once published, will provoke further discussions in to what can be done to support young people to remain out of the criminal justice system.

Criminalisation of looked after young people

Research was published in 2016 on responses to offending in residential care. A collaborative next steps project through CYCJ is exploring and supporting implementation of the findings of Between a Rock and a Hard Place.

Developing Capacity and Improvement

Workforce 2016

A study has been carried out in to workforce needs. Information gathered has raised the need for further training. This will inform the design of a collaborative workforce development model founded on common core skills.

Workforce development

A scoping study on the landscape of formal training provision across agencies was carried out in 2016. This highlighted gaps in training on up to date knowledge and skills in relation to youth justice. This led to engagement with the Children's Hearing System and Police Scotland around training packages.

Training and knowledge exchange

Training roadshow events have been delivered together with disseminating knowledge and best practice through e-bulletins, information sheets, research briefings and reports. The Scottish Government and CYCJ delivered 6 roadshow events to support the implementation of the strategy in early 2016.

Practitioner and policy maker forums

A Risk Formulation Forum and an Early and Effective Intervention Forum for practitioners to share knowledge and good practice have been created.

Youth Justice outcomes framework

A framework for improving outcomes in youth justice is being developed to assist the youth justice workforce to contribute to the achievement of person-centred outcomes.

Data capture

A report was produced in 2017 highlighting the existing data that is captured across partners and some of the issues with this. A shared data set to identify patterns of criminogenic and non-criminogenic needs is also being developed.

What the evidence tells us

Overall progress has been sustained over the last two years. On 31 May 2017 there were 46 under 18 year olds in custody, which reflects a return to smaller numbers, after increases in 2014-15 and 2015-16 as illustrated below. We are monitoring these figures closely and looking to reduce this number further where children can be better supported and the risks they pose managed in the community or in secure care, where appropriate.

On 31 May 2017 there were 46 under 18 year olds in custody, which reflects a return to smaller numbers, after increases in 2014-15 and 2015-16

Criminal Proceedings Statistics show that in 2015-16 there were 20 under 16 year olds prosecuted in Scottish courts. The number of young people (12-17) prosecuted in Scotland's courts was 2203 in 2015-16 (a fall of 78% from 9813 in 2006-07) which shows that a significant number of 16 and 17 year olds are still prosecuted in court. The number of young people under 18 convicted of handling an offensive weapon has also fallen by 81% from 489 in 2006/07 to 92 in 2015/16.

Evidence from practice and research demonstrate the need to improve understanding of the impact of trauma and better support effective, and earlier, interventions by practitioners.

"How many more people do I have to see die? I'm only 19 and that's five people died already and I keep thinking to myself 'are the rest of them gonna die?' And then I'll grow up alone"

Voice of young person in Polmont, CYCJ Research 2014

Most young people who experience difficulties such as physical, sexual and emotional harm and abuse, neglect, loss and bereavement or witnessing violence, do not go on to offend. However, children who offend are nearly always children who have experienced such hurt and harm, often described as adverse childhood experiences ( ACEs). In addition young people who are involved in offending are often victims of harm themselves. This cycle needs to be broken.

Research carried out by CYCJ in Polmont Youth Offenders Institute highlighted that over three quarters of the young men spoken to had experienced traumatic bereavements (murder, suicide) and two thirds had suffered from substantial bereavements (four or more).

A later study of 130 vulnerable and potentially 'high-risk' young people referred to the IVY service found, on average, children had experienced more than four adverse childhood experiences at the time of their referral, including parental separation, witnessing domestic violence, abuse, neglect and bereavement.

The vast majority of young people had experienced parental separation (81%) and witnessed domestic violence (61%). Other common experiences were emotional neglect (50%); living with a family member affected by mental illness (42%) and physical neglect (41%). More than one-third had been physically abused (37%) and one-in-five (19%) had been sexually abused.

Similarly a recent study by the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration found that, of a sample of 100 8-11 year old referred to the reporter in 2012-13, 39% had disabilities and physical and/or mental health problems and 25% had been victims of physical and/or sexual abuse, most of which carried out by family members or associates of the family.

1 out of 3 young prisoners have been in care at some point in their life.

SPS Prison Survey of Young People in Custody (2015)

This distressing and compelling evidence can increasingly inform work with children and young people before they come into contact with the youth justice system and in turn contribute to better outcomes for them.

In particular, it informed the Scottish Government's decision to legislate to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 8 to 12 with appropriate safeguards for exceptional cases. The statement of the Minister for Childcare and Early Years, Mark McDonald MSP, to the Scottish Parliament on 1 December 2016 announcing plans to bring forward legislation, was a key milestone in making this change a reality. The Advisory Group on the Age of Criminal Responsibility and the young people who participated fully in consultation and engagement around proposals deserve particular thanks and recognition for the contribution they made.

The recently published mental health strategy includes actions specifically related to young people who are involved in offending, those on the edge of secure care and those young people who are at risk of harm to themselves or others.


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