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Home > Developing effective relationships between youth justice workers and young people: a synthesis of the evidence.

Fulerton, Deirdre and Bamber, John and Redmond, Sean (2021) Developing effective relationships between youth justice workers and young people: a synthesis of the evidence. Limerick: School of Law, University of Limerick.

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Across a range of human services, youth workers, social workers, therapists, correctional workers, volunteer mentors, foster carers and many others invest a great deal of time and energy in their professional relationships with young people. This is because there is widespread faith in the capacity of ‘the relationship’ to help young people build pro-social skills on the one hand and disengage from antisocial or criminal behaviour on the other. 

While the literature is replete with outcome-related evaluations of formal evidence-based programmes, there is not much robust research evidence about what constitutes an effective relationship. To address the evidence gap, the authors of this report conducted a literature review to identify the key features of such relationships and to find out what helps the relationships to thrive, what hinders their development and in what ways they assist young people to change for the better. There were two stages to the review. The first interrogated evidence reviews that had already collated and analysed evidence from single, primary-level studies. This high-level review of reviews sought to establish if and how the research topic had been addressed and to identify key themes warranting further exploration. The second stage involved a more focused systematic evidence review to drill down into and elaborate upon the identified themes. The findings from both stages provide a summary of the evidence relating to building and maintaining effective relationships between professionals and young people in youth justice settings. 

The core skills involved in developing effective working relationships with young people include active listening, taking the time to get to know the young person, empathetic responding, advising, guiding, modelling pro-social behaviours and challenging ideas and behaviours in a non-threatening or judgemental manner. Equally important are worker qualities such as dependability, consistency and commitment to the young person. In addition, intangible qualities such as warmth and humour appear to be critical. The combination of skills and qualities helps to establish the mutual trust that is essential for developing and sustaining effective relationships

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