Samantha Starmer, Service Manager at Cumbria Youth Offending Service, shared with us the work they are doing in their youth Triage scheme.
Over the years, the pre-court youth diversion scheme at Cumbria Youth Offending Service (YOS) has undergone many changes. However, for the past three years it has been in its current model; Triage. The Triage scheme aims to divert children and young people away from the criminal justice system and to improve their life chances going forward. It also focuses on increasing victim confidence in the criminal justice system.
THE TRIAGE SCHEME
A young person becomes involved in the Triage scheme if they have been arrested for a criminal offence. Following arrest, a Police officer creates a file and the file will go to a weekly meeting between the Youth Offending service and Police for consideration for the Triage scheme. At the meeting the young person’s personal circumstances in addition to the offending, are discussed and a decision is made as to what is in the public interest and the best outcome for the young person. If it is decided it is suitable for the Triage scheme, the file will go to Triage, if it is not appropriate due to the seriousness of the alleged offence, the young person is prosecuted through the mainstream justice system. There is no strict exclusion with regard to what offences may be processed through the Triage system, usually matters are decided on a case by case basis. However, it would be unusual for hate crimes or offences involving a knife to be processed through Triage. The gravity matrix is used for each case discussed.
Young people who have previously participated in the Triage scheme may be considered for Triage a second time depending on the offence and/or personal circumstances. It may be decided that it would be beneficial for them to go through another Triage. To participate in the Triage scheme, a young person must admit guilt for the offence(s).
Once a young person has been determined suitable for Triage and they consent to participating in the scheme, the young person’s needs are assessed and a suitable plan is drawn up. Many of the young people coming through the scheme present with complex needs and need additional welfare support. There is no strict set time period for Triage scheme matters, however most usually last between four to six weeks. If a young person still requires support after completing Triage, they may be referred to another organisation or assessed for support through the Early help process.
The programming offered in the scheme is light touch and tailor made for each young person, with the intention of not overdosing the young person. Interventions range from a letter of apology, drug and alcohol counselling, mentoring, to face to face restorative justice. There are no punitive elements to any of the programmes offered. After successful completion of Triage, the Youth Offending service reports back to the Police about the success of the young person completing the interventions. Successful completion of the Triage scheme results in a young person not having a criminal record on the Police National Computer (PNC). However, in limited circumstances it may be disclosed on an enhanced DBS check for employment, if the Police officer in their discretion believes it is relevant for safe guarding reasons.
One of the biggest challenges in the scheme relates to when a young person has successfully completed Triage, but offences pre-dating that Triage participation come through. This is difficult for CYOS to manage as the service does not determine how police files are processed. Instances of this occurring may lead to a young person being given a second turn at diversion. Another challenge relates to the fact that Triage is designed to be a brief, light touch disposal, however many of the children and young people who become involved in the scheme have complex issues and vulnerabilities – often issues that are not directly related to their offending, that need to be addressed. It is sometimes difficult in such a short space of time to address these issues fully and often children work with CYOS longer at this stage, in order for CYOS to access support and services for them.
STATS & SUCCESS
Cumbria Youth Offending Service have found year on year reductions in first time entrants to the criminal justice system. Due to the limited size of the Triage system, it has been difficult to record data, however since January 2018 the scheme has started analysing cohorts. From January to June 2018, 96 young people participated in the Triage scheme. Of those 96 young people it has been determined that the reoffending rate was 17%. Samantha believes this reduction in First Time Entrants and the low reoffending rate is as a result of the strong partnership between Police and the Youth Offending Service, including effective joint decision making, that keeps children and young people diverted from the system whilst ensuring needs are addressed early on. The scheme has high levels of completion rates, with young people really engaging with the service.
Author: Rachel Waters, Innovative Practice Officer at the Centre for Justice Innovation.