Influencing youth justice decisions

Referral sources from custody

Referrals from police custody can be made from a variety of sources:

Each of these are described in more detail below.


Many police custody suites have a triage system which brings youth offending teams (YOTs) into custody suites and involves them in the decision making process to inform the final outcome for the young person. In particular, this approach is used for first time entrants to the youth justice system or for low level offending. Where triage is already operating it can be used as a referral pathway for health screening and diversion.


Appropriate Adult (AA) Scheme

Although most young people in police custody are accompanied by a parent or family member to act as their appropriate adult and represent their best interests, some young people require the services of the appropriate adult scheme.

Each youth offending team (YOT) has a responsibility to provide an appropriate adult scheme for the police area they cover. Appropriate adults are trained individuals and volunteers who attend police custody facilities to assist young people up to and including 16 years of age and also vulnerable adults. They are required when a parent or carer is unavailable or deemed inappropriate to attend. They represent the young or vulnerable person and help facilitate communications between them and the police. The appropriate adult often represents young people where families have ‘given up’ on them and in such cases may represent young people with a multitude of vulnerabilities and can, therefore, be a rich source of referrals.

Some YOTs have outsourced the Appropriate Adult function and provided additional training to enable AAs to also complete the initial health screening, usually undertaken by separate YJLD workers.

For more information on the appropriate adult scheme contact the National Appropriate Adult Network.


Drug Intervention and Prevention Workers

Drug Intervention and Prevention (DIP) workers are employed within police custody suites to test detained people for opiate and cocaine usage. Initially employed to test adult detained persons only, their remit of work has been extended to include drug advice to anyone in police custody. The authority to require a drug test from a detained person is automatically granted upon the commission of a 'trigger offence'. These are mainly acquisitive crimes, drug possession and supply. If a police inspector or above believes that the commission of the offence was due in part to the use of drugs they may also authorise a test to be conducted.

DIP workers are available in police custody settings to offer advice to all detained young people, often performing a ‘sweep’ of the cells to ensure people receive the necessary support from their service. Any positive test or concerns can then be referred for further health screening. A positive test result and subsequent engagement with drug misuse services can influence the custody officer or the Crown Prosecution Service in determining the final outcome of the case.

In adult cases, if the detained person is engaged with the drug intervention programme, the criminal case is suspended. As long as this engagement continues the original charge(s) will not be dealt with. If the client fails to attend the programme this is fed back to the police and Crown Prosecution Service who can reinstigate the original proceedings.


Police Healthcare teams (including the Forensic Medical Examiner)

Police custody suites usually have access to health professionals who they can call when they have concerns about the health and well being of anyone in the custody suite and if they have concerns about fitness to interview or detain. In 2014 responsibility for initial and enhanced health screening in custody suites will pass to the NHS (some sites are already testing this approach as early adopters). The healthcare staff should improve the identification of safeguarding or health vulnerabilities and YJLD will provide a key partner and pathway to ensure prompt assessment and wraparound support into local services.

Where there are significant concerns about mental health or capacity, the Forensic Medical Examiner (FME) will be called in.

Force Medical Officers are called to examine a number of people in police custody and if they detect any underlying health concerns they could also refer to YJLD schemes. The FMO’s main function is to determine if the young person is fit to be detained at a police station and if so, if they are then fit to be interviewed. The FMO will not normally have specialist knowledge of child development or child and adolescent mental health issues.

For example, the FMO can influence police practice if a young person is arrested for a public order offence. The FMO examines that person and may determine that they have been drinking alcohol and have a mental health condition. As such they are fit to be detained but not interviewed until sober and then only with an appropriate adult. If the mental health condition is serious the FMO could influence the judicial decision making process by deeming the person unfit to be detained or interviewed and by referring the individual to a mental health disorder panel (where these exist) to determine if any action should be taken against them.

YJLD workers should liaise with this professionals and the police to develop an agreement of how the scheme interfaces with the work of this professional. For example, the YJLD worker may provide follow up support for those who, after examination, don’t require dealing with via the Mental Health Act or they may act as link between the court, the CPS and any psychiatrists who become involved in assessing the young person.


Adult liaison and diversion schemes

As part of the National Liaison and Diversion Programme, it is planned that liaison and diversion schemes to cover all ages will be in place across the country from 2014. Many custody suites may already have regular coverage from adult liaison and diversion teams. In some pathfinders, these teams work in partnership with the YJLD schemes and filter for children who may have ‘flags suggesting the need for follow up by YJLD.


Duty solicitors

Duty solicitors may also be a useful source of referral. In busy urban areas, liaison with duty solicitors may be more challenging. However, for them to remember to refer to the scheme, they will need to understand how it benefits their work. In some areas, attending youth or magistrates court before court and talking to solicitors about the aims and outcomes of the scheme may help with communication. YOT and Probation court workers will be able to advise on who the regular duty solicitors might be. A regular briefing might be useful as a promotional tool, explaining how the scheme works (including how bail can be used to enable further assessment) with a case study demonstrating how it might help young people in the local area.

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