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About youth justice liaison and diversion

Youth justice liaison and diversion - intervening early to improve health outcomes for children and young people in contact, or at risk of contact, with the youth justice system

What is diversion?

Children in or close to the youth justice system have more unmet health needs than other children. They also face a range of other difficulties including school exclusion, fragmented family relationships, substance misuse and unstable living conditions
(Department of Health, 2009).

Diversion is about taking early action to make sure that children and young people in trouble with the law get the right help, in the right place, and at the first possible moment.

Diversion can be action to avoid a young person coming into the youth justice system in the first place (diversion away from the system) or action to improve what happens if they do come in (diversion within the system).

It can mean intervening:

  • As soon as there is official contact with the police (pre-arrest)
  • Immediately after arrest
  • While the case is going through court
  • To avoid a young person being remanded or sentenced to custody.

In his review of people in the criminal justice system who have mental health problems or learning disabilities (The Bradley Report, 2009) Lord Bradley developed this definition for diversion:

"A process whereby people are assessed and their needs identified as early as possible in the offender pathway (including prevention and early intervention), thus informing subsequent decisions about where an individual is best placed to receive treatment, taking into account public safety, safety of the individual and punishment of the offence." (p16)

Evidence shows that early intervention offers the best chance of making a positive difference to children’s lives. This, in turn, can have a positive impact on their families and their local communities.

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What is liaison?

Successful youth justice liaison and diversion relies heavily on partnership work and a commitment to good liaison with others. This is important because of the wide range of people and services that will necessarily be involved.

Schemes are intended to improve communication, awareness, information and support so that the most vulnerable children get speedy access to the services in the community that they need. This requires the ability to work with, and make links between, children and their families; services about youth offending, health, substance use, education and social care; local services for children, for adults and for whole families; and faith-based and other voluntary sector support.

It requires confidence, too, in discussing consent with children and their families (gaining consent) and in understanding the importance of clear protocols for sharing information with colleagues.

Liaison is about many different things, including:

  • Having access to data systems (held by Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services, the police, Youth Offending Teams, social care and education services, troubled families/parenting support databases etc) in order to establish whether children are already in touch with community and youth offending services.

  • Completing the CAF (Common Assessment Framework) form so that needs are logged and brought to the attention of local services.

  • Making follow-up phone calls to workers in contact with young people and negotiating or establishing the need for further contact.

  • Raising awareness of the scheme with community-based and youth justice partners, and of the likely reasons for their referring a young person to the liaison and diversion scheme.

  • Engaging with children, and with families, schools and others close to the child, including those who may be able to contribute to screening for and assessing needs.

  • Using the screening information to negotiate access to local support services or to provide information to inform decisions about prosecution.

  • Working to improve the chance of young people engaging successfully with services, especially with services that are clinic/office based. Children may need greater encouragement and support to contact and keep in touch with these services.

  • Troubleshooting if young people or families have problems accessing support or are at risk of losing the service because appointments have been missed.

  • Liaising with the police if joint decisions are needed about how to respond to a child’s behaviour, as recommended in the government’s consultation paper Breaking the Cycle.

  • Linking with forensic child and adolescent mental health teams, multi-agency public protection teams (MAPPA), or other specialist services providing advice about sexually harmful behaviour.

  • Liaising with Youth Offending Team (YOT) report writers, the police, police healthcare and the Forensic Medical Examiner, the Crown Prosecution Service, Appropriate Adults and sentencers to provide information to support their decision making about appropriate responses to children’s behaviour (CPS/sentence feedback form).

  • Liaison with secure settings, for those children who do continue along the youth justice pathway and are placed in custody where there are concerns about vulnerability and special needs, assisting YOT liaison with the placements team at the YJB to help the young person access, where possible, the most supportive placement.

  • Liaison with adult mental health and disability services, to improve the continuity of help provided as young people approach 18.

For children who are not diverted away from the system, and so continue through to sentence in court, liaison provides an opportunity to address any safeguarding issues, starting at the point of arrest and continuing via reports presented in court about the package of work in place and the progress being made. Liaison can also help improve the quality of health and social information made available to sentencers. This has previously been identified as an area for improvement by official inspections.

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