The role of holistic approaches in reducing the rate of recidivism for young offenders

J Ravulo1

[20-1000] Introduction

Last reviewed: May 2023

I first become intrigued by how the legal system works when I came across a newspaper article in 1998 that highlighted research around sentencing disparities between Anglo Australian, Indigenous and Pacific young people.2 It found the latter two cohorts were receiving harsher penalties, double those of their white counterparts, despite coming from similar criminal histories and backgrounds. Being a teenager myself at the time, with an Anglo-Australian mother and Fijian father, and extended family and friends involved in the youth justice system, it made me feel an array of emotions ranging from disbelief, frustration and anger. This in essence, further underpinned my growing understanding of social justice, and to question why society undertakes such treatment of people, especially its youth.

My growing interest in the youth justice system flourished through my undergraduate degree in social work. Studying at the then University of Western Sydney (now known as Western Sydney University), I came to further understand the role of systems theory, and the importance placed on creating various social systems to cater for individuals, families and communities that make up a society. But I also became more intrigued by the idea that certain systems may create further inequalities and areas of marginalisation as a result of them not catering for its people. As I further heard from lecturers on the ongoing needs across public housing communities in western Sydney, it motivated me to serve and strive to contribute (where appropriate) to promoting a more fair and just systemic response to young people involved in the youth justice system.

After successfully completing my four-year social work degree, I eagerly secured my first full-time job in 2003, working as a Post Release Support Program (PRSP) caseworker. This role was funded by NSW Juvenile Justice and contracted by Mission Australia, a non-government organisation, to work collaboratively across the Campbelltown and Liverpool local government areas. My core role was to help young people aged between 10–17 years reintegrate into their community after spending time in custody. This model was previously set up due to a trend within the Children’s Court where young people were not receiving a mandated parole period after their incarceration, which limited their scope to receive support by Juvenile Justice. Despite young people having a short or extensive criminal history, my support was aimed to help clients and their families reintegrate positively into their community. However, many challenges still occurred as the model at the time only focussed on certain outcomes that were perceived to reorient the young person into forms of education, training or employment. Of course, these are important components of helping a young person, but it did not cater for the extensive social and welfare needs such families were still experiencing, and the need to move limited resources to areas that would cater for such deficits in the community.

Such work bolstered my understanding around the ongoing limitations across government departments and agencies that appeared to work in silos rather than collaboratively. For example, as I was trying to get support from local schools to enrol a client, I was trying to negotiate resources to help fund the additional means to enable them to engage, eg, uniforms, workbooks, pens etc. At the same time, I was also trying to gain other resources to help with physical health needs to support the young person and their family. Realistically, I knew this was the role I was employed to do as a case worker, however, it felt that at times, if I didn’t proactively approach certain services and departments to connect with one another and to gain support and assistance, then they may have never done so. This challenge perpetuated the lack of understanding and insight certain community organisations may have around the true social and welfare needs of young offenders and their families.

My desire to create a greater insight on the need to challenge and change the way in which community-based agencies were not working together become my focal point; including the desire to understand how NSW Police, NSW Children’s Court and NSW Juvenile Justice interacted to support the reduction in recidivist offending behaviour. This objective was further extended by the completion of a Master in Education degree in 2005, where I focussed on the role of engaging disengaged learners in education, followed by the start of my professional doctorate in cultural research where I aimed to further understand the development of antisocial behaviour in young offenders. My paper is focussed on exploring the various entities that make up the youth justice system, and the possible role of creating good practice approaches and opportunities for organisational capacity building.

In the first section, I will explore the social and welfare needs of young offenders, and their interactions with NSW Police, NSW Children’s Court and NSW Juvenile Justice — with a view to highlight the possible incongruence that may occur due to certain practices that further perpetuate cycles of disadvantage and marginalisation. In the second section, I will explore models of good practice within holistic intervention programs that reduce recidivists’ offending behaviour. Finally, I will explore the ongoing need to develop and implement whole-of-community and whole-of-government strategies that better enhance and promote social inclusion, cohesion and cultural capital.

Social and welfare needs of young offenders

There is a growing amount of research that highlights the significant concurrence between youth who offend and their social and welfare needs.3 An implicit need arises to create systems that effectively respond to such obligations. Rather than view youth justice as solely bringing a young person to account from a criminal lens, there is an emphasis to meet the challenging needs from a welfare perspective. Specifically, it is through an ecological, or holistic lens, that we can start to gain a better insight, understanding and room for better strategies that deter recidivist offending behaviours. Rather than see the young person through the lens of their criminogenic needs and risks, ie factors that lead to offending, systems should be better equipped to promote pro-social attitudes and behaviours that lead to inclusion and engagement.

Through my own empirical research with young offenders,4 10 key areas were profiled: seven around the prevalence of social and welfare needs, and the other three associated with their interaction with the youth justice system. In total, 100 young people were profiled through their involvement in case-management services provided by a large non-government agency, Mission Australia, that worked in partnership with NSW Police and NSW Juvenile Justice. The following subsection of the paper will profile the key findings from this research, which is further supported by quotes gained from young people. Such a perspective highlights the realities of working with young people with significant social and welfare needs, and the role the youth justice system should play in helping rehabilitate and deter recidivist offending behaviour, rather than perpetuate and create further tensions and strains across the community.

Significant social and welfare needs

Table 1 outlines the various social and welfare domains evident from the research undertaken across the following seven areas:

  • family dynamics

  • accommodation arrangements

  • education levels and history

  • financial circumstances

  • health characteristics (including alcohol and other drugs (AOD))

  • social participation (including access to identification documentation), and

  • criminal history.

Under each domain, an array of different characteristics was further explored, providing insights into the issues, and the need to appreciate the multiple and complex needs of the young person, their family and the wider community.

Table 1: Social and Welfare needs of young offenders

Domain Characteristic Percentage (n=100)
Family Regular contact with Mother 81%
Regular contact with Father 43%
Lives with both parents 35%
Three or more siblings 72%
Mother is working (any type) 37%
Father is working (any type) 40%**
Mother has significant AOD usage 48%
Father has significant AOD usage 65%**
Mother has been incarcerated 19%
Father has been incarcerated 42%
Mother violent in home 34%
Father violent in home 68%
Young person violent in home 63%
Mother demonstrates mental health issues 44%
Father demonstrates mental health issues 35%**
Young person also undertakes care for siblings 37%
Accommodation Lives with non-family member 9%
Resides in public housing 75%
Resides with four or more bedrooms 16%
Resides with six or more people 45%
Access to privately owned car 6%
6–15 minute walk to bus station 45%
30+ minute walk to train station 47%
Evades train fare 72%
Received penalty notice for fare evasion 80%
Education Young person attained Year 10 and above 30%
Special Education enrolment 20%
History of school suspensions 55%
Diagnosed learning difficulty 38%
Diagnosed behaviour issue 35%
Mother — below Year 10 completion 88%
Father — below Year 10 completion 95%**
Reading level below academic standard for age 36%
No longer enrolled/active in education 86%
Finances Not on Centrelink benefits (but eligible) 55%
History of unpaid fines now under Revenue NSW 59%
Further issues with Revenue NSW for not paying 58%
Health History of negative AOD use 97%
Young person consumes AOD daily 53%
Previously convicted of offence under influence of AOD 82%
Offence undertaken to obtain substances 29%
Poor personal hygiene 38%
Known mental health issues 29%
Social Socialising with peers own age 56%
Socialising with negative peer associates 81%
AOD use among peers 44%
Negative anger towards peers 61%
Negative anger in public 63%
Negative anger in education 72%
Negative anger in home 75%
Access to computer at home 14%
Access to Internet at home 15%
Consistently attends sport commitment 35%
Attends Place of Worship 41%
Criminal First offence by age 14 58%
Sibling has been incarcerated 57%
Serious Indictable Offence conviction 43%
Charged with 5+ offences 37%

** Of known cases.

Many of the distinctive areas that are outlined in Table 1 reflect a lack of support and resourcing for the young person. In the family domain, a large number of parents, especially fathers, have significant issues with AOD usage. Such patterns may impact on the family environment, and can lead to similar patterns being developed with the young person. This is also evident from the large proportion of offences being committed while under the influence, with over half of this cohort consuming on a daily basis. Notions of other negative patterns is evident in the level of violence that may occur, with such behaviour also seen as a norm when overcoming conflict in the home, leading to poor interpersonal and intrapersonal communication skills.

A large proportion of participants have not completed Year 10 or above, with many also having a history of school suspension due to problematic participation or behaviour. Parental completion of high school was also low, which may impact on attitudes to educational engagement whereby lifelong learning and its many benefits are diminished. Such perspectives may have led to nearly 90% of the young people surveyed no longer attending school or participating in any form of education or training.

Limited access to public transport as evident in the accommodation domain, can lead to further issues when young people are expected to move across the community to access other resources including training and work opportunities. With only 6% of households possessing a privately registered vehicle, the need to budget funds to utilise public transport is important. However, a large majority of young people may not have ready access to such funds, and as a result, evade the fare, leading to fines and other sanctions. This is evident with nearly half of the cohort not receiving Centrelink benefits, despite being eligible, and the accumulation of unpaid fines being referred and monitored by Revenue NSW (previously known as NSW State Debt Recovery Office).

As a result of not successfully engaging with positive learning environments found in school or other parts of the community, young people may then create peer group association with other young people who are also in similar positions and possess significant social and welfare needs. This may then exacerbate other unhelpful behaviours within this cohort of friends, including negative alcohol and other drug consumption, and violence and aggression among each other, in education and their own homes.

A high proportion of young people may also have other family members with a history of offending, including parents and siblings. Over half the participants in this research committed their first offence before the age of 14. Such patterns of offending behaviour, without intervention, can lead to a further trajectory of offending, especially if encouraged among a negative peer group, which in turn may lead to offences becoming more serious in nature over time.

Interactions with youth justice system

Table 2 outlines the same participant cohort, and their interactions with the three keys areas of youth justice in NSW: the NSW Police Force, NSW Children’s Court and NSW Juvenile Justice.

Table 2: Interactions with the NSW Youth Justice system

Statutory Department Characteristic Percentage (n=100)
NSW Police Force Stopped at least once a week 65%
Profiling impacts on peer association 63%
Profiling impacts on self-esteem 64%
Young person will actively run/hide from police 60%
Young person will run/hide due to existing warrant 58%
Young person required to report to police for order 63%
Problems occur when reporting to police 77%
Problems occur during interaction with police 83%
Problems with police then result in further charges 34%
NSW Children’s Court History of more than 5+ court cases 35%
More than 5+ adjournments during case 24%
Adjournments are for 6+ weeks long 11%
Parent present at court to support child 49%
Young person understood court process 87%
Attending school during court process 22%
Re-offending during court process 44%
Re-offending leads to a new charge 94%
Missed court appearance during matter 28%
Missed court due to non-parental support 25%
Missing court resulted in a further warrant 85%
Abide by imposed conditions 30%
Abide by condition to report to police 77%
NSW Juvenile Justice Mandated to attend weekly supervision 85%
Trouble accessing transport to attend supervision 85%
Caught public transport to attend supervision 56%
Evaded train fare to attend supervision 63%
Received fine for fare evasion 91%
Supervision was perceived as helpful 39%
Good rapport with juvenile justice worker 60%
Conflicting appointments were made 24%
Supervision ended due to lack of compliance 37%
Formal breach or order occurred as a result 80%

A large proportion of young offenders felt a strained relationship with NSW Police, creating a sense of us and them that further perpetuated a level of mistrust. A third of offenders who had problems through negative interactions with police received further charges as a result. This negative association only created a perceived barrier with such young people, who may see NSW Police as an unhelpful entity, rather than wanting to promote community safety. Young people also felt negatively impacted by the constraints on their ability to associate with peers, resulting in low self-esteem which impacts on the way in which they position themselves as a positive member of a community. As young people are still in the psychosocial developmental stage of forming their personal identities, negative association with systems, including law enforcement, may create an anti-social perception for the young person, who starts to then internalise and perceive their own self and broader identity within this context. As shared by one 13-year-old male:

One of the police, they were saying rude stuff to me, and when they were hand cuffing me they squeezed my hand and stuff . . . F you and stuff . . . I don’t wanna be bad and stuff, I just wanna be a normal person.5

Legal processes in the NSW Children’s Court are, by their nature, complex. However, young offenders have noted a positive flow of communication in the court, and participate with a good level of comprehension about what is going on. Part of this approach is assisted by the compulsory need to have a parent/caregiver present during court participation. However, there were some concerns when such guardians were not present, which meant matters could not progress, and adjournments would occur. This has more of a negative impact if the young person is not granted bail. In other situations, if a young person is on some form of community-based order, almost half of such young people re-offend, which leads to a new charge before the courts. Such cyclical patterns then create further concerns as a number of young people will not be engaged with formal education, further deterring opportunities for learning and matriculation into vocational support leading to employment and other positive life outcomes.

Of the young people required to see NSW Juvenile Justice as part of their court order, a large percentage found being able to attend mandatory appointments problematic. With over half having to use public transport to access such support people, over two-thirds received a financial fine for not paying the required fare. A good level of rapport was generally built between the young person and their respective worker; however, a lower rate was scored for the perceived usefulness of supervision given. This could be based on the value such young people placed on the actual support given, or the nature of the support still being perceived within a punitive context. Where there is a lack of value on supervision by the young person and there are problems in being able to physically attend appointments due to transport and the inability to pay, this led to non-compliance, which in turn resulted in further breaches. As a result, a warrant for an arrest may ensue, further perpetuating a negative association with legal entities.

Therefore, as noted in the above two tables, the social and welfare needs of young people and the way in which they interact with the legal system needs to be considered and dealt with effectively. The lack of ability to report to police, and attend supervision and court hearings may prevent genuine assistance and support from being provided to such vulnerable and marginalised young people. Being able to counteract such problematic social issues and anti-social behaviour is needed, as discussed below.

Holistic approaches to deterring recidivist offending

Models of service delivery and provision should reflect the social and welfare needs. A holistic approach helps meet such needs, and understands and addresses criminogenic factors. Traditionally, case-management approaches have been utilised when working with young offenders especially through statutory entities like NSW Juvenile Justice. However, it is how this case-management model is established and implemented that can make the difference.

Various case-management models exist, ranging from problem solving and task centred, to post-modern, narrative and psychosocial. Under each model, one of the main goals is to re-position the client as an individual within their situation, and provide scope for the case worker to support the young person to explore the possible reasons and solutions to the issues they are experiencing. Ideally, the case worker is situated to empower the client to be self-determined, as someone — when given the opportunity — who has the ability to challenge and change their current pathway towards a more positive set of outcomes.

A good practice approach to case management is both prescriptive and descriptive. Prescriptive in the way in which various stages occur across the life of the working relationship, facilitated by the case worker in conjunction with the young person. The descriptive nature of good case management occurs where the client is able to nuance the direction by providing their own insight and aspirations. Combining a prescriptive and descriptive approach will enable specific goals to be mapped, while assisting tangible outcomes to occur.

For example, as per Table 3 below, Stage One would consist of assessment; where the case worker gains a greater insight and understanding of the client’s circumstances. Stage Two includes goal-setting activities that enable the client to explore the possible solutions to the problems they are facing.

Table 3: Good practice approach to case management

Prescriptive Descriptive Focus
Stage One: Assessment Information provided directly by young person, their support people, and other relevant sources Understanding individual context and capabilities
Stage Two: Goal Setting Young person creates specific case plan with support of worker to achieve positive outcomes Promotion of possibilities beyond current circumstances and situation
Stage Three: Implementation Application of case plan, with support of worker in engaging with resources Engagement and connection with self and community
Stage Four: Review Worker to support active reflection with young person on the progress and process of change Creating an insight into pro-social thought, feelings and behaviours
Stage Five: Exit Outlining possible options and access to resources beyond case-management period Exploration of ongoing development and importance of self-determination

Descriptively, young people are the central component of the case-management process — where they are seen as collaborators and contributors. Their own perspective and narratives shape the way in which each stage is undertaken, providing a practical application and understanding to the process.

At the same time, an overarching focus is also part of the case-management process, knowing that each stage also yields a more in-depth ability to provide the young person with the opportunity to both deconstruct, and reconstruct their understanding of self and others. This is achieved by making them the focal point, enabling the case worker to facilitate the helpful relationship towards a change process that deals effectively with the social and welfare needs that perpetuate offending behaviour.

I have been involved in creating a case-management model that supports the development of young people involved in crime. Under the auspices of South West Youth Services and Mission Australia, the Youth Offender Support Programs (YOSP) were formed to develop three programs to work with NSW Police and NSW Juvenile Justice. A psychosocial case-management model was developed to address criminogenic factors, and the accompanying social and welfare needs by accessing and setting goals against 13 life domains (Table 4). Each domain represents a key area of the individual’s life, while also listing key tasks or activities that could support the young person to set goals, and to implement them as part of the case-management process. The top five domains that were most utilised were:

  • personal and social skills

  • alcohol and others drugs

  • financial

  • family, and

  • health.6

Table 4: Youth Offender Support Programs

Life Domain No of times domain chosen as a goal Included
Accommodation 16 Family placement and personal support
Family 16 Mediation, sibling and parental support
Education 12 School and TAFE placements
Employment and training 26 Job search, resume and accessing courses
Recreation 31 Sporting commitments and programs
Financial 16 Centrelink payments and budgeting
Health 44 Sexual, physical and mental health
Alcohol and other drugs 15 Education, harm minimisation and strategies
Identification 15 Birth certificate, bank accounts and TFN
Legal and offending behaviour 37 Court appearances and supervision
Daily living 16 Hygiene workshops and resources
Personal and social skills 19 Anger and conflict management and peers
Ethnic culture 15 Connection with community and events

Other promising models include the newly formed and implemented Youth on Track, a program funded by NSW Juvenile Justice with Mission Australia, and referrals sourced by NSW Police and NSW Education. The majority of referrals are activated from NSW Police after the young person has received their second caution, or youth justice conference or charge. Over half identify as being Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. On entry, near to 60% of participants had a medium-high risk of offending, but on completion, scored low-medium.7 Additional benefits include 88% of young people improving their relationship with police, including positive and no contact; and 50% have reduced their offending risk after three months of involvement.8 The key feature of the case-management model is to address eight central criminogenic domains: antisocial behaviour and thinking, peer relations, alcohol and other drug use, education and employment, family functioning and connection to community.9 An ongoing evaluation framework underpins the model, with a view to highlight strengths and areas of improvement.10

Individual, community and organisational capacity building

Overall, there is a need to enable a young person to understand their own role in the community through their participation in pro-social activities and behaviours. This also includes promoting community-based resources and capacity to deal with needs. That is, how can we expect to have resilient individuals if we do not adequately fund resources within communities and regions that support psychosocial development and achievement? This includes providing support for families to thrive, and access educational opportunities that are on par with existing educational levels.

We also need to ensure organisations are adequately resourced and understand the work being achieved with vulnerable young people and their families. This may be achieved through the following three areas underpinned by the notion of capital as expounded by sociology theorist Pierre Bourdieu:11


developing the skills of the individuals (economic capital — talents and attributes),


developing the community to promote cohesion (social capital — role of community to support networking and opportunities for growth and participation), and


developing organisations and institutions to be responsive (cultural capital — valuing contribution and shaping the way in which capital is understood and determined).

Developing the skills of the individuals (economic capital)

The opportunity to assist an individual develop skills and other key attributes that will help them engage in education, will also foster and enhance the notion of lifelong learning. That is, we learn how to learn. If we are not providing scope to participate and attain a positive association within local primary and high schools, then it can be difficult to move into other key areas and outcomes in life. By promoting positive attitudes towards learning, employment is seen as being a productive part of wellbeing, which in turn supports economic and financial viability. However, people are not able to gain and sustain employment if they do not have the requisite skills that lead to job readiness and employment. Therefore, by promoting young offenders to meaningfully engage in education requires the additional care and support with adequate access to resources to enable such outcomes to occur. Underlying this concept of formal learning comes the opportunity for young people to potentially exercise their talents and attributes, also known as strengths, that provide a platform for skills to develop, mature and become part of the toolkit used as a productive member of society.

The need to engage young offenders in a process of effective change through holistic case-management models further supports economic capital, and the ability to use such capital in a proactive and productive manner. Other people within the young person’s environment, including siblings and parents, will also contribute to the way in which attitudes are fostered. If support programs include other family members in the process of change, then a shifting in attitudes towards education, and subsequent employment can also follow.

Also, the notion of lifelong learning is not restricted to formal learning environs. It also incorporates the way in which individuals understand and learn who they are, and how they relate to self and others. Having a positive understanding of self helps an individual to further foster a positive attitude on how their thoughts, emotions and behaviours may have an impact on self and others. For example, the ability to learn from mistakes is part of having a positive attitude towards lifelong learning. You are able to further undertake decisions that are informed by the learning from previous experiences. Creating such emotional intelligence can then support the ability to be more critical in the way in which someone navigates certain life choices, and once again impacts on the creation of skills to exercise and obtain economic capital. This includes interpersonal and intrapersonal communication skills, and the way in which someone learns how to effectively communicate across various situations and circumstances.

Developing the community to promote cohesion (social capital)

Individuals make up families, and families make up communities. Within these communities certain attitudes and perspectives are formed in accordance with the allocation of resources such as adequate housing, transport and other community-based facilities like sport and recreation, shops, schools and law enforcement. The ability to access and utilise these resources also depends on the way in which local communities value these resources.

In the context of youth offenders and their families, being able to promote scope for such individuals to be part of their local community can greatly impact on the way in which they participate and use the respective resources. The inclusion of young people in spaces that provide them with a voice to be heard, and activities that are relatable and engaging, can assist them engage with their local community. For example, the Police Citizens Youth Clubs NSW (PCYC) helps foster positive relationships between the community and police, and can be part of this approach. Various activities are offered, ranging from physical to educational; all in the context of youth participation and inclusion. New and emerging peer groups are formed and support the development of a community where young people feel valued. Helping young offenders, who may be vulnerable and marginalised due to their social and welfare needs, to actively join their local PCYCs can spur on a level of growth and participation. Such young people are also provided with the opportunity to learn new positive skills and perspectives that are reinforced by other participants. Having this sense of value can greatly assist an individual feel they are able to positively contribute to their own community, in turn creating a sense of social capital.

Community cohesion is part of this bigger process and encourages individuals and families to become more connected with the larger notion of being part of a community. At the same time, communities are empowered to be proactively involved in supporting one another to thrive, ensuring adequate resources are funded and included across a particular geographic location. Conversely, if individuals and families are not valued in their own community, then a lack of cohesion may occur, creating marginalisation and disadvantages the way in which a community operates and functions. Therefore, it is important for young offenders to feel like they do positively belong to their community, which can be impacted by the way in which they interact with schools and police.

Developing organisations and institutions to be responsive (cultural capital)

In lieu of community cohesion, the need to create organisations that interact with young offenders and their families to be responsive to their social and welfare needs is important. Various institutions, and the way in which they do things can greatly determine the outcome achieved. It is within these organisations and institutions that certain practices are undertaken, forming a culture of how employees operate. For example, the ability of police to develop appropriate skills to communicate with young people who have limited interpersonal communication skills can determine the outcome of such an interaction. If a young offender, who has had a negative experience with police previously, does not respond appropriately to police during their respective interaction, this can create further problems for both the young person and the police. Likewise, if a staff member in NSW Juvenile Justice is not aware and appreciative of the limited interpersonal communication skills of a young offender, they may perceive such youth as being non-compliant and not wanting to change.

Therefore, the need to re-shift the way in which institutions and organisations value and determine what is appropriate can have a positive impact. I believe we need to promote scope for young offenders to be better understood in the context of their significant social and welfare needs, and the way in which they may navigate and negotiate their involvement in the youth justice system. Paired with the ongoing psychosocial development of young people, I also believe organisations and institutions have a responsibility to set a tone to create a culture where service provision and delivery meets these needs. Rather than creating a punitive space, we need to balance the approach between a welfare and justice model12 where we strive to understand the significant social needs of the young person, while also promoting scope for them to be held accountable where and when appropriate.

This may include the development of responsive organisational policy and procedures when accessing young offenders in accordance with their social and welfare needs to encourage engagement and participation. For example, meeting young offenders in their own local community may provide a better incentive to get involved in supervision by NSW Juvenile Justice, rather than expecting them to take public transport to a location they can not financially afford to get to. Utilising other community-based resources to assist in promoting community inclusion, including local schools, can also assist in this big-picture approach. In turn, this builds a level of cultural capital, where expectations are mapped and can be met by all parties involved; without the risk of creating another level of marginalisation for young people already isolated.


There is a real need to promote partnership between individuals, families and communities with the organisations and institutions that work with them. Rather than working and competing against each other, including departmental silos that may exist across State government and their contracted services, we need to promote whole-of-family, whole-of-community and whole-of-government approaches that are equally underpinned by social resilience, social mobility and social inclusion.

A whole-of-family approach provides scope for individuals to be understood in the context of the family, and the various social and welfare needs that may exist within. At the same time, the ability to highlight possible capabilities and strengths that can be utilised in the change process is part of the solution. We need to understand that young offenders are part of a family/care-giving system that may require additional assistance, while at the same time providing supportive engagement with this service. Such young people and their families should also be acknowledged for their resilience, and this needs to be recognised as part of their ability to move beyond difficult situations and create further opportunities to thrive.

A whole-of-community approach provides scope for communities to see themselves as that — sharing a common unity that enables their members to operate and function in a purposeful manner. Being aware of what resources are available to help connect people to one another, while also acknowledging certain gaps and areas of improvement is part of this process. Providing young offenders with a space to be included and feel like they belong and can contribute is part of this approach. This will also promote a sense of social mobility where people can move in and across a physical space while also seeing the potential to move beyond perceived limitations whether they be physical or economic. The ability to traverse beyond their local community and across other areas of the region can also support young people to see beyond their marginality, in turn, providing new opportunities and experiences that can help enforce positive engagement and inclusion with others.

A whole-of-government approach provides scope for departments to move beyond the limitations of red tape and rhetoric. All government departments are created to undertake a certain role and responsibility across civil society, but within each department, a governance structure is created, and a certain way of doing things occurs. The need to uphold legislative frameworks and operations that fall under a certain remit is required, but at the possible sacrifice of working collegially with other cognate departments. In turn, a barrier is created, and resources are expended with a common good in mind, but may fall short of meeting the need of the community in which they are created to service. Therefore, the need to institute connections to working with each other can be part of breaking down these barriers. This includes enhancing working relationships between all departments that have a vested interest in counteracting youth offending and crime, including Police, Education, Health, Juvenile Justice and the Children’s Court. Ensuring strategic departmental plans are more inclusive of each other results in a level of social inclusion not just within the statutory agencies, but also across the wider community. Overall, a better scale of economy is enabled and an efficiency to truly meet the social and welfare needs of young offenders and their families.

Through this approach, I believe we can achieve a more holistic response to the way in which we work collaboratively in and across the community. It is my ongoing hope and professional commitment to promote the scope for society to be more aware of the realities associated with the needs of young people who commit crime, and to create a systemic response that benefits all stakeholders including government departments and its services in the desire to deter recidivist offending behaviour while promoting happy, healthy communities.

1Associate Professor, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Wollongong. Presented at Judicial Commission of NSW, Children’s Court of NSW s 16 Conference, Friday 3rd November 2017, Sydney.

2P Gallagher and P Poletti, Sentencing disparity and the ethnicity of juvenile offenders, Research Monograph No 17, Judicial Commission of NSW, 1998.

3D Johns, K Williams and K Haines, “Ecological youth justice: understanding the social ecology of young people’s prolific offending” (2017) 17(1) Youth Justice 3, at, accessed 6 August 2019.

4J Ravulo, The development of anti-social behaviour in Pacific youth, University of Western Sydney, Sydney, 2009.


6Ravulo, ibid, p 260.

7NSW Justice, Youth on Track snapshot, Sydney, 2016 at, accessed 8 August 2019.

8NSW Justice, Youth on Track snapshot, Sydney, 2018 at, accessed 8 August 2019.

9Cultural & Indigenous Research Centre, Youth on Track social outcomes evaluation, 2017 at, accessed 8 August 2019.

10NSW Bureau of Crime Statistic and Research, Outcome evaluation of Youth on Track, 2017 at, accessed 8 August 2019. See also, L Trimboli and NSW Bureau of Crime Statistic and Research, Youth on Track randomised controlled trial: process evaluation, Issue paper no 141, August 2019.

11R Moore, “Capital”, In M Grenfell (ed), Pierre Bourdieu — Key Concepts, 2nd edn, Routledge, 2014, p 98.

12C Cunneen, R White and K Richards, Juvenile justice: youth and crime in Australia, 5th edn, Oxford University Press, 2016.