Work begins today in six pilot sites to ensure children and young people with mental health, learning disabilities and other difficulties such as family conflict, homelessness or drug and alcohol misuse get the help they need as soon as they come into contact with the police.
The six Youth Justice Liaison and Diversion schemes are supported by the Department of Health, the Youth Justice Board, the Department for Children, Schools and Families, the Ministry of Justice and Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health. Their aim is not to replace sanctions for serious crimes but to prevent further offending and avoid future harm to victims through tackling at the earliest possible opportunity problems that have led young people to get into trouble.
In each scheme, workers will liaise closely with the police and the Crown Prosecution Service in police custody suites to identify those young people who need additional help. In cases where mental health, learning disabilities or drug and alcohol difficulties are suspected, workers will help these young people and their families get speedy specialist assessments. They will also work hard to get young people and their families into the full range of services they need.
Justice Minister David Hanson MP said: "It is important that vulnerable young people are given support to divert them from offending and to help them lead more successful lives. Effective early action on mental health issues, alongside access to appropriate healthcare provision, can make a huge difference.
"I welcome these pilots which support the approach set out in the Government's Youth Crime Action Plan to reduce youth offending."
Minister of State for Care Services Phil Hope said: "We need to prevent young people from drifting into a vicious circle of poor mental health and offending, which we know can happen without appropriate support. These pilots will help identify the benefits of effective early treatment, instead of allowing young people who are often at the early stages of developing mental health difficulties to become criminalised. I'm pleased to support these pilots and I hope they will provide an example for others to follow as quickly as possible."
Sainsbury Centre chief executive Angela Greatley said: "At the present time too many people in the youth justice system have a range of mental health and other problems. If they do not get the help they need very early on, they risk drifting further into crime, jeopardising their future prospects and causing problems in their schools and in their communities."
The six Youth Justice Liaison and Diversion schemes are in Halton and Warrington, Cheshire; Kensington and Chelsea, west London; Lewisham, south London; Peterborough; South Tees and Wolverhampton. They will run for two years and will be subject to an independent academic evaluation.