Home > Garda Youth Diversion Programme annual conference.

Guiney, Ciara (2021) Garda Youth Diversion Programme annual conference. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 76, Winter 2021, pp. 26-28.

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In July 2020, the Department of Justice and Equality published the Report of proceedings: a Garda Youth Diversion Projects annual conference 2019.1 The conference, which took place in the Croke Park Conference Centre on 6 November 2019, brought together over 300 delegates from across Ireland. The conference provided a space for delegates to reflect on existing practices and experiences, learn from each other, and contribute to how the Garda Youth Diversion Programme (GYDP) and youth justice policy develop going forward.

In the opening address, the then Minister of State David Stanton TD welcomed delegates to the conference, which aimed to focus on issues of professional and personal importance to him, as a politician and former teacher and guidance counsellor. Department of Justice and Equality updates were delivered by principal officer Deaglán Ó Briain, responsible for criminal policy and community safety policy.

The event consisted of two sessions: the morning focused on providing information (presentations and discussions), while the afternoon involved interaction (plenary sessions and facilitated working groups of 15 to 20 participants). The first guest presentation was by Noeline Blackwell, human rights lawyer and CEO of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre. This was followed by presentations from Chief Supt Colette Quinn, director of the Youth Diversion Programme at An Garda Síochána; the Action Research Project team at the University of Limerick; and the Best Practice Development team at the Department of Justice and Equality.

Small group discussions

Action Research Project: This session explored building transformative relationships with young people and drew on participants’ experience of what worked and what did not. Several themes emerged in this discussion, such as the role played by young people to bring about positive change; consistency of youth justice workers; benefits of informal engagement; positive reinforcement; importance of Garda training in youth justice methodologies; and the need for interagency cooperation. Barriers to successful engagement were identified, such as lack of funding, difficulties identifying young people for referral, and delays in the process.

Early Intervention Pilot Initiative: The aim of the Early Intervention Pilot Initiative discussion was to increase knowledge about the initiative, get input into its development, and consider its alignment with existing projects. The initiative focused on increasing the ability to engage at-risk children. Participants believed that antisocial and criminal behaviour was evident among those aged between 8 and 10 years. Children mainly of this age and younger are not catered for by GYDPs. The need for specialised training for GYDP employees working with this age group was highlighted along with appropriate policies and procedures for the referral process.

Family Support Pilot Initiative: The aim of the Family Support Pilot Initiative discussion was similarly to increase knowledge about the initiative, get input into its development, and consider its alignment with existing projects. The initiative targeted the home lives of young people participating in GYDPs with the aim of decreasing criminal behaviour. Participants believed that the initiative was unique as it provided support to families, particularly in rural areas who did not meet Tusla involvement criteria. Working with parents was viewed as critical in addressing inappropriate youth behaviour. However, it was acknowledged that youth justice workers did not have the capacity to provide this service. Several factors were identified that showed family support was required, such as family criminality and drug use, neglect, domestic violence, parental mental health issues, and intergenerational trauma. Effective parenting, developing coping skills, and a reduction in offending behaviour would be attainable if family support were made available across projects. However, it was acknowledged that some families would not accept this support even if offered.

Managing trauma: This session explored an understanding of trauma-informed practice, managing trauma, and youth suicide prevention within the GYDP context. Trauma was viewed as an emotional response to an event or events, with participants noting that an event considered a trauma by one person may not yield a similar response in others. Working with young people and families that have experienced trauma can also have an impact on youth justice workers. The main indicators of trauma that were identified included isolation, depression, hopelessness, aggression, underachievement, substance misuse, self-harm, issues with trust and attachment, and lashing out (p. 24). Participants believed that youth justice workers should be trained in trauma-informed practice. The importance of realising that trauma experiences can contribute to criminal/antisocial behaviour was noted; this should change the focus from ‘what’s wrong with you’ to ‘what happened to you?’ from the outset (p. 25). A multiagency approach was required where all services were in the one place. The YLS/SMI 2.0 youth assessment was considered inadequate to assess for the presence of trauma.

Regarding suicide prevention, the ASSIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) programme was considered a ‘good starting point’ (p. 25), while experience of the STORM® programme provided greater confidence to those working in suicide prevention. Identifying suitable out-of-hours services for at-risk youth was seen as challenging. A proposed solution was assigning qualified therapists to projects on a pilot basis to work with young people experiencing trauma.

Self-care: The aim of the self-care discussion was to provide participants with an opportunity to examine their own self-care, with an emphasis on their current or potential actions to increase their wellbeing. Self-care was viewed as something personal and hence approaches taken would depend on the individual. What self-care meant was explored by the delegates. External supervision was viewed as essential in self-care. Self-care practices included taking 10 minutes time-out from work, reflective diaries, exercise, an employment assistance programme, and informal peer support.

Specialist project evaluation: This session provided information on two pilot projects (Solas Rua in Dublin and Janus Justice in Limerick) that target harder-to-reach young people and examined how these projects fit with the GYDP network. The discussion explored reasons why some young people were harder to reach (p. 28), such as being involved in organised crime, limited parental engagement, unemployment at home, and parental mental illness. Participants noted the need to try and reach young people in their own community, even when numbers were small.

Supporting the role of An Garda Síochána: The Garda Síochána discussion explored the development and implementation of the Together Stronger Guidelines, put forward in 2017 and which aimed to strengthen the working relationships between juvenile liaison officers and youth justice workers. Participants identified what worked well and what areas they would like changed.

Work to Learn: The aim of this discussion was to increase knowledge about the Work to Learn initiative and consider how this approach could be applied in their own projects. The programme was developed in Kilkenny in 2015 and aimed to ‘expose’ young people on GYDPs to the ‘world of work’ and the skills necessary to function successfully in it (p. 31). It draws on a structured and supported process centred on preparation, placement, and reflection (p. 31). Participants noted that while the benefits of the programme were clear, it would pose challenges implementing it in rural areas. Difficulties also existed in preparing young people for work and how to keep them motivated.

Youth justice strategy: This session provided an opportunity to learn more about the new youth justice strategy. Participants focused on four issues – prevention and early intervention; diversion; procedural justice (detection, investigation, prosecution, court proceedings); and sanctions (including detention) and post-release and reintegration (p. 32) – in relation to the three thematic areas of the strategy. These are:

  • Supporting children and young people
  • Criminal justice system processes for children and young people
  • Oversight, governance, reporting, and development.

Training needs wall of ideas: Participants identified several areas where further training in their sector was needed. Suggestions and views on how to achieve this were placed on a training needs wall of ideas throughout the event.

Final guest presentation: The final presentation was delivered by Pat Divilly, author and high-performance coach. The focus of his presentation was personal development and self-care.


The conclusion section of the report brings together the main themes that emerged from the conference. These were interagency cooperation, innovation, reach, trauma-informed practice, and self-care.

1     Egan A (2020) Report of proceedings: a Garda Youth Diversion Projects annual conference 2019. Dublin: Department of Justice and Equality. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/32545/

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco)
Intervention Type
Crime prevention
Issue Title
Issue 76, Winter 2021
March 2021
Page Range
pp. 26-28
Health Research Board
Issue 76, Winter 2021

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