I feel that there needs to be more partnership working between the Courts, Youth Offending Services and Children’s Social Care

Expert Voice: Samantha McKay on youth diversion

Posted on 28 Jun in

You’re a strong advocate for youth diversion. Why is it so important?

Youth diversions are very important for a variety of reasons. Firstly, we are aware that adolescence is a time of experimentation as well as a pivotal point of transition from childhood to adulthood. Secondly, young people will seek to take risks at this period of time in their life cycle with very little thought of the long term consequences. Whilst this does not condone their behaviours it does provide a clear understanding of their cognitive abilities, particularly in relation to their inability to think consequentially. I therefore advocate for young people to be diverted from the criminal justice system, especially in respect of the commission of low level offending. When delivered appropriately, a short diversionary intervention can have a major impact on reducing re-offending.

Having been involved in the set-up and design of diversion schemes, what three things would you say are key to a successful scheme?

A strong commitment and belief in the scheme held by all key partner agencies; interventions that are tailored to address the concerns and involve an element of Restorative Justice (to support young people repair the harm caused to victims) and interventions that support young people to develop internal controls even if that means signposting to universal services upon completion.

Do you think there are any notable gaps in current diversion practice? If so, what are they and how can they be addressed?

One noticeable gap in current practice is the fact that some young people are given multiple diversions which undermines the purpose and the criminal justice system on the whole. If young people continue to commit offences and there is very little or no evidence of mitigating circumstances to justify the behaviours, then they should be escalated up the tariff and the matter should be dealt with using other forms of out of court disposals such as Youth Cautions, or Youth Conditional Cautions.

What one thing would you change about how the criminal justice system operates?

In terms of youth court I feel that there needs to be more partnership working between the Courts, Youth Offending Services and Children’s Social Care. On some occasions there is a discord between how these three agencies work together to safeguard the welfare of young people, specifically in terms of those that are gang affiliated and are deemed perpetrators and victims. Contextual safeguarding is required at times to deal with the issues relating to gangs and serious youth violence and this can only be effective if agencies move away from individual blame to one that places the behaviour in its contexts.