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Arrested Children: how to keep children safe and reduce reoffending

YEF Systems Guidance

Published -
December 11, 2023

The Youth Endowment Fund exists to prevent children from becoming involved in violence. One of the ways we seek to achieve this mission is improving support for children when they are arrested. This includes diverting them from formal youth justice processes like appearing at court. This is a critical moment where effective support can change a child’s life and keep them safe.

Why we are focusing on arrested children

There are five reasons why we have decided to focus on arrested children and how they are diverted:  


What needs to happen, and what will we do? 

The YEF recommends seven changes for improving support for arrested children. Over the next 5 years we’ll work with key partners and invest our own funding to support these changes:


Police have the incentives to use diversion

The crime outcomes reporting framework currently discourages police from diverting children to positive activities that could reduce re-offending. We will work with the Home Office to update the framework so that Outcome 22 is recorded as a successful outcome when applied to children. 


Police are confident to respond to vulnerable children

Each arrest of a child should be treated as a safeguarding opportunity as a well as a public safety opportunity; it is a moment to identify children who are vulnerable or being exploited. We will work with partners to ensure police are supported to identify and refer vulnerable children, to address this underlying cause of crime.


Funding reflects needs

The current funding formula for youth justice services is out-of-date and does not properly reflect informal diversionary work to reduce re-offending, or target it in the most important areas. We will work with the Ministry of Justice to review funding to better support diversion where it can have the biggest impact.


Fast and effective referrals

Research suggests that speed of referral is important and should happen soon after an arrest occurs. We will work with police, youth justice services and other partners involved in diversion so that referrals can be made as simple and straightforward as possible, usually within 4 weeks of arrest.


prioritise what works

Not all support is effective: some approaches can reduce re-offending; others can make things worse. We will work to ensure that youth justice services, policing staff, and other partners are confident on the evidence base of what approach is most likely to help a child stay safe.  


Access to therapy

Large numbers of arrested children have unmet mental health needs. But very few receive any therapy to address this, even though we know it is effective. We propose an audit of access to evidence-based interventions, especially therapeutic support, and reliable access is provided for priority needs. 


Better data

We know surprisingly little on who is diverted, what they receive, and what happens to them next. We will work with the Youth Justice Board to embed systems for capturing this data so that there’s a better national picture of diversion, and how it can be improved. 


Download the full report

The National Children’s Bureau conducted a review of research into the implementation of diversion in England and Wales.

Get involved

If you’re passionate about improving opportunities for children and young people who come into contact with the criminal justice system, and would like to get involved in this work, sign-up below to get the latest updates and opportunities.