Identification, screening and assessment

Stage 1 - Filter referral

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The task here is to identify those children and young people who are likely to need attention from a Youth Justice Liaison and Diversion (YJLD) project at the point of their initial contact with the police.

Most young people who get into trouble with the law will not re-enter the youth justice system or require any additional support (Australian Institute of Criminology, 2006). Some young people are significantly more likely to re-enter and face multiple poor outcomes.

Screening every young person for health and social needs the first time they get into trouble with the law could be both inefficient and overly intrusive. This blanket approach would also divert police time and resources from their work of responding to crime. In order to be most efficient and effective, YJLD need to focus resources on those with the greatest chance of poor outcomes.

YJLD workers aim to engage and screen four distinct groups of young people on the edges of or at an early stage in the youth justice system to ensure that resources are effectively targeted towards improving outcomes for those with the greatest risks of poor life chances.

Another challenge affecting early identification is that the age of the children and young people – the very fact that they are young – often makes it hard to spot their vulnerabilities at this stage of their development.

Many adults who misuse substances or have other health problems will have started to form these habits during their childhood or teens: for example, 50 per cent of adults with mental illness will have shown emerging symptoms by age 15. Many more will have grown up in family and neighbourhood circumstances marked by multiple risk factors for a range of poor health and social outcomes (including parental mental health, drug and alcohol misuse, chronic unemployment).

To target their work effectively, YJLD workers will be looking to engage with the following young people:

  1. Those with well documented risk factors for multiple poor outcomes (see a checklist to help with targetting below).

  2. Those with emerging poor health. Although half of all long-term adult mental disorders are reported to begin before the age of 14, early more subtle signs of illness tend to be overlooked (Lancet, 2007). Intervening at the point when these signs first emerge increases the chances of improving the quality of life as well as reducing service costs (BMJ, 2004) (BMJ, 2005).

  3. Those with clear cut high health or safeguarding needs. This can include children and young people with unidentified learning disabilities (Prison Reform Trust, 2010) or speech and communication difficulties (Bryan et al, 2007), those already involved in serious misuse of drugs and/or alcohol, those with severe mental health problems or in mental health crisis, and those at risk of suicide.

All this means that YJLD workers need to be vigilant about looking for the subtle signs of poor outcomes before children and young people’s lives reach crisis point, because preventing such a crisis has the potential to change the course of children’s life chances.

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A checklist to help with targeting

There is no precise or foolproof way of identifying which particular young people coming to the attention of the police need targeting for early intervention.

But we have drawn on the literature surrounding risk factors to create a short checklist, to help front-line professionals decide which children and young people are likely to need further screening and follow up by YJLD staff. The more risk factors a young person has, the greater their chance of poor outcomes.

The checklist is intended to be an initial filter for use by the police and other front-line professionals involved at this early stage (triage, drug and alcohol arrest referral, youth workers, Youth Offending Team, Appropriate Adults, etc).

If at least one risk factor is identified, the young person should be referred to the YJLD team.

The case will then proceed to Stage 2 – Check service information.


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