What are the benefits of liaison and diversion?
Evidence shows that many young people entering the youth justice system have multiple unmet needs (DH, 2009; Centre for Mental Health, 2009b) and many risk factors for a range of poor outcomes. The greater the number of risk factors, the greater the chance that children’s future outcomes will be undermined.
These children and their families have often missed out on opportunities for help with their needs. Early intervention offers the best chance of making up for lost time, and of making a positive difference by creating 'a social and emotional bedrock' for future generations. (Graham Allen Report, 2010 p 41).
- Liaison and diversion at the point of arrest can be successful in first detecting and then giving immediate support to young people with unmet health and social needs, including disabilities; emotional, developmental and mental health problems; risk factors for the misuse of drugs and alcohol; physical health problems; and difficulties in learning, speech and communication. Other benefits at this stage include earlier attention to safeguarding needs (including the risk of suicide), early work with those at risk of being drawn into gangs, and direct work around family relationships and parenting difficulties.
- Liaison and diversion schemes provide a simple access point or 'front door' for referrals for children in contact with the police. Workers respond rapidly by reaching out to children and families and sometimes doing direct work themselves to identify needs and respond to risk factors.
- Some children will be diverted away from the youth justice system and into support in the community while others may be charged and appear in court and so continue through the youth justice system. Liaison and diversion workers ensure that those making decisions about charge, remand and sentence have better information about vulnerable children and families, about the particular child in front of them, and about available intervention options for improving outcomes for children, families and communities. Their task is to help support others to make decisions that are more effective and more efficient.
- Liaison and diversion can help provide 'quick wins', including reducing local costs (through helping achieve smaller Youth Offending Team (YOT) caseloads, fewer school exclusions, less paperwork for frontline police, fewer court listings, less need for legal fees).
- Liaison and diversion can also contribute to longer-term costs savings. It should help increase the commissioning of a range of evidence-informed interventions for vulnerable children. Effective diversion into services such as tried and tested parenting support, multi-systemic therapy, alcohol and drug interventions, early intervention in psychosis services (Knapp et al, 2011), and proven approaches for children with attention deficit and hyperactivity disorders (NICE guidance, 2008) have all been proven to lead to significant longer-term cost savings for the public purse.
Savings accumulate over time, because these children’s hidden vulnerabilities tend (if unaddressed) to lead to multiple crises and to chronic health problems and inequalities. Unmet needs also lead to social exclusion which hampers educational progress, reduces work opportunities and undermines active participation in community life.
- Liaison and diversion allows children who have committed lower-level offences to learn from their mistakes, often through restorative approaches, and to reduce the chance of lower aspiration or lost opportunities that can result from being or feeling labelled as an offender.
- Offering an intervention as an alternative to prosecution can be a successful way of engaging with and motivating young people who are at high risk of offending and who may need to be attracted to services in new ways. For example, deferring a decision about prosecution has, for some young people, provided the opportunity for them to become engaged for the first time with standard support services in the community.
- By improving partnership work and promoting the importance of agencies responding quickly and collaboratively to children's multiple needs, liaison and diversion activity can help reduce the delay in providing vulnerable children with timely support.