The Minister of State for Law Reform, James Browne TD, has today launched the new Youth Justice Strategy 2021-2027 with the Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD. The Strategy, a key commitment under Justice Plan 2021, is designed to provide a developmental framework to address key ongoing challenges, as well as new and emerging issues in the youth justice area.

This will include preventing offending behaviour from occurring and diverting children and young adults who commit a crime away from further offending and involvement with the criminal justice system.

It will also provide for enhanced criminal justice processes, detention and post-detention measures to provide consistent support to encourage desistance from crime and promote positive personal development for young offenders.

Launching the new Strategy, Minister Browne said, “Youth crime, including anti-social behaviour, can have a major impact on our communities and poses significant challenges for An Garda Síochána, as well as other Justice agencies. The factors which underlie youth crime have significant implications across a range of policy and service provisions, including Child and Family Services, Health, Education and local authority functions.

“This Strategy will respond collaboratively to the situation of vulnerable children and young people, with a strong focus on diverting them away from offending, prevention and early intervention. I can’t stress enough the importance of bringing all the relevant agencies and programmes together, and of supporting schools, to ensure that we provide a holistic, ‘wrap around’ response to the needs of children and young people at risk.

“Young people should have the benefit of a ‘no wrong door’ experience – if a family or a young person engages any service, there should also be accessible pathways to other services and supports that they might need. And, ideally, we should be engaging young people at risk before they enter the justice system.”

The immediate priority within the new Strategy will be to enhance engagement with children and young people who are most at risk of involvement in criminal activity, principally by strengthening the services available through the existing network of 105 Garda Youth Diversion Projects (GYDPs) across the State.

GYDPs engage with young people through a range of supports, including education, training and employment support, social enterprise initiatives, as well as personal development and supports such as mentoring, and personal development activities. The Strategy will seek to increase the range and quality of supports available to support positive personal development and behavioural change to lead to positive outcomes for the young people involved and their families.

Experience in the operation of the Children Act highlights the need to include children below the age of criminal responsibility (12 for most offences) in preventative measures, and to consider the extension of measures to divert young offenders away from the criminal justice system beyond the age of 18.

In particular, GYDP services will be enhanced to provide:

  • early intervention and engagement with more challenging children and young people whose needs may be too complex for the existing GYDP services;
  • family support;
  • engagement with younger children (8-11 years); and
  • work with schools to support retention of young people with challenging behaviour in the education system.

Some areas do not currently have a GYDP service. The Strategy proposes to achieve full national coverage within two years, principally by extending the operating area of existing projects, but a small number of new projects will also be required.

Minister Browne added, “While the problems created by Youth Crime are obvious, the proportion of our children and young people involved is extremely small. The Youth Justice System generally interacts with those aged 12 to 17 years old and Garda experience tells us that a significant number of young people who commit a crime will “grow out” of offending behaviour as they mature into adulthood.

“However, a very small but hard-to-reach cohort engage in serious or persistent criminal offending, a significant amount of which is drug-related and connected to the activities of organised criminal networks. Our current systems need significant development with respect to the measures available to address entrenched patterns of youth offending, and the new Strategy will address these issues.”

Substantial development of GYDP services is already underway, centred on an Action Research Project led by the “Research Evidence into Policy Programmes and Practice” (REPPP) research partnership with the University of Limerick, which is working directly with local projects. Aligned with this is the work of a dedicated Best Practice Development Team, who provide guidance, technical support and professional development support to GYDP Youth Justice Workers.

Dedicated arrangements will be put in place under the Strategy to support evidence-based development of programmes and interventions, and for monitoring the effectiveness of implementation on an ongoing basis. This will be supported by the enhancement of the existing  REPPP research partnership model.

The new Youth Justice Strategy has been developed under the guidance of an expert Steering Group which has been in place since early 2019. The Steering Group was chaired initially by former Minister of State Stanton, and Minister of State Browne has overseen the completion of its work in recent months. Stakeholders from across the Justice Sector and Children and Youth Affairs were involved in the work developing the Strategy, including TUSLA, An Garda Síochána, community partners, and academic and practitioner experts. Feedback from a public consultation process carried out by the Department of Justice, which elicited 360 responses to an on-line questionnaire and 50 further substantive submissions, also informed the Strategy.