The case for intervening early

Children who end up in regular contact with the youth justice system have far more unmet health and social needs than other children of their age. These include poor communication skills, emotional and mental health problems, learning difficulties and both self-harm and risk of harm to others (DH, 2009).

They also face a range of other, often entrenched, difficulties – including experiences of trauma, racism and abuse, school exclusion or under attainment, drug and alcohol misuse, early behavioural difficulties, fragmented family relationships, poverty, unstable living conditions and parental poverty, social exclusion and mental health problems.

It is the combination of overlapping factors that gives these children multiple and complex needs and heightens the risk of them being drawn into anti-social activity. Many of these needs will be long standing; many will have gone unrecognised and unmet; many are known high-risk factors for poor outcomes.

  • Most children who have contact with the police for the first time are unlikely to come back into the system a second time (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2006).

  • Diverting children away from the youth justice system in the first place generally decreases their chances of future offending, when compared with control groups who were not diverted away (Petrosino et al, 2010).

  • The small group of children with the most damaging experiences and with multiple risk factors for poor health and social outcomes are at greatest risk of coming in and out of the youth justice system ( Centre for Mental Health, 2009a; Australian Institute of Criminology, 2006; DH, 2009).

  • Those in contact with children at the early stage (or risk) of entry into the youth justice system - such as neighbourhood police, custody suite officers, police custody suite health workers, and triage workers - have the best chance of identifying these children early and ensuring that they and their families get the help they need through liaison and diversion services.

You can use the youth justice liaison and diversion checklist to help decide whether a young person is within your project scope and to identify flags indicating a need for health and well-being screening by Youth Justice Liaison and Diversion.

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