Thursday, April 15, 2021

By Michelle Devane, PA

Garda youth diversion projects are to be expanded into every county across Ireland as part of the Government’s new strategy aimed at steering vulnerable children and young adults away from crime.

Law Reform Minister James Browne said there should be a “no wrong door” policy when young people are in difficulty.

“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,” Mr Browne said.

“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 junior minister launched the strategy alongside Justice Minister Helen McEntee on Thursday.

It has been developed under the guidance of an expert steering group, which has been in place since early 2019.

It is designed to enhance engagement with children and young people who are most at risk of involvement in criminal activity, by strengthening the services available through the existing network of 105 Garda Youth Diversion Projects (GYDPs) across the State.

As 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.

‘Grow out’ of offending

Under the strategy, 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; more family support; engagement with younger children (aged eight to 11); and work with schools to support retention of young people with challenging behaviour in the education system.

Mr Browne said the youth justice system generally interacts with 12 to 17-year-olds and Garda experience shows 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,” he said.

“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.”

We will adopt a ‘never-give-up’ approach of engaging with those who are hardest for services to reach

The Justice Minister said the strategy aims to address the “hard-to-reach” cohort of young people at risk.

Ms McEntee said: “There will be a priority focus on more problematic offending. We will adopt a ‘never-give-up’ approach of engaging with those who are hardest for services to reach.

“The strategy also incorporates a focus on serious offending patterns. This includes further development of the successful Bail Supervision Scheme and the Greentown programme aimed at children and young people who are subject to coercive control by criminal groups.

“Both these initiatives have received international awards as examples of innovation and good practice.”

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