The YJLD model

The theory of change that underpins YJLD work

Intervening early in the youth justice system improves the life chances of vulnerable children, can reduce offending, and saves money in the longer term

The Youth Justice Liaison and Diversion (YJLD) model is based on a public health approach.

This means focusing on the health of a population as a whole and placing emphasis on preserving, promoting and improving everyone’s health. The underlying premise is that it is inherently better and more cost effective in the longer term to promote health and prevent illness before an illness or excessive harm occurs, rather than react once a crisis has arisen (Lancet, 2007).

Fundamental to the public health approach is attending to the impact of risk and protective factors on people’s life. Research has identified the risk and resilience factors that are relevant when responding to children vulnerable to multiple poor outcomes, including health, well-being, behaviour and general life chances.

Public health approaches also recognise that children’s health and well-being is everyone’s business. This is an important message for all services: schools, the police, primary health, mental health and substance misuse, youth justice, and children’s services and adult social care.

YJLD builds on a strong foundation of evidence-based early intervention

It would be a mistake to view youth justice liaison and diversion as the starting point for supporting vulnerable children at risk of contact with the youth justice system. Rather, it should be underpinned by a firm foundation of other evidence-based interventions that can be used at a much earlier stage by any or all family members.

We know that many young people’s health needs go unmet, and that young people who are most vulnerable to poor outcomes are also the ones least likely to access primary care services (Macdonald, 2006). What YJLD provides is a targeted safety net for young people who face the worst prospects and have missed out on earlier opportunities. YJLD sits, therefore, at the interface between community services and the youth justice system. Its role is to prevent vulnerable children from drifting into the youth justice system as a result of poor access to services, unmet needs and other disadvantage.

YJLD workers aim to improve the access to services by young people who have missed out on early health care and have also tended to miss out on access to clinic-based services during the very early stage of contact with the police and other youth justice services. Workers improve access through identifying needs early and then liaising on young people’s behalf to divert them to relevant services in the community. Their role is crucial, not least because unnecessary contact with the Criminal Justice System has been identified as increasing the chances of re-offending behaviour (Petrosino, 2010). Find out more about the case for intervening early.

YJLD should link closely to what works to improve outcomes for vulnerable children

YJLD provides an early pathway to what we know works best to improve outcomes for some highly vulnerable children and young people with specific needs and who have struggled to access timely support (Prison Reform Trust, 2010, Offord D, 1996). YJLD projects will, therefore, need to have close links and protocols with a range of services that provide effective interventions for high-risk and vulnerable children and their families, to ensure that those close to the youth justice system get the best chance of benefitting from these interventions. Some of the most effective ones are those that focus on strengthening family relationships and bolstering the networks around the young person.

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