Wakefield Council: diverting young people from crime

Wakefield Council’s award-winning Liaison and Diversion Service is helping young offenders steer themselves away from crime by providing support for everything from mental health problems to help accessing education and training. The approach has proved so successful it is now being replicated in other areas. This case study is an example of how councils are tackling youth violence.

The challenge

In 2009 the Government-commissioned Bradley Report laid bare the inefficiency in the criminal justice system. It cited figures showing over nine in 10 prisoners had mental health problems and learning disabilities.

It warned a lack of early support could be a factor in the offending history with prisoners falling into a pattern of re-offending before being given a custodial sentence.

The research prompted Wakefield Council to re-think its approach to the way it supported people who found themselves in trouble with the police.

The solution

The council formed a Liaison and Diversion Service in partnership with the police to work with offenders who have vulnerabilities. It was initially focused on under 18s, but was then extended to all ages when it was commissioned to be one of 10 national pilot sites by NHS England in 2013.

The 13-strong multi-disciplinary team is based at Wakefield’s police headquarters. The team includes mental health nurses, youth offending practitioners, specialist practitioners and police officers.

Those that are identified as having vulnerabilities – whether it is a mental health problem, learning disabilities, substance misuse or even help with employment, education or housing – are assigned a case worker to carry out a full assessment.

This looks at all aspects of the person’s life, taking a whole family approach identifying vulnerabilities which may be contributing to their offending behaviour. The person is then diverted on to interventions that are appropriate and proportionate to the offence using restorative practice.

This could be a victim awareness or shop theft session facilitated by a volunteer from the Restorative Practice Team. In addition young people are then offered voluntary interventions around their unmet needs and vulnerabilities.

Liaison and Diversion Team Manager Clint Hepworth said: “This is a tailored plan for that individual and could be wide-ranging from educational support to re-engage with school or college, an assessment with a speech and language therapist to identify any communication difficulties, a referral to child and adolescent mental health services (CAMHS) for emotional wellbeing and mental health or an educational session around safe use of the internet and risks of child sexual exploitation. “

The idea is that the direct support from our team lasts no more than 12 weeks. At the start we establish a care plan and an exit strategy. We want them engaged with the services they need before we can then move on.”

The impact

Over the past 12 months the service has worked with nearly 250 young people. A similar number of older adults have been provided with support too. Re-offending rates stand at 22 per cent, compared to 32 per cent for those who do not receive the tailored support.

Some 85 per cent of young people remain engaged with services after the 12-week support ends – significantly higher than the national average for other schemes nationally.

One of the young people who has been helped is Jack. He was referred into the service after assaulting his mother. This followed a number of other offences.

The case worker developed a plan with Jack and his family, including help from the youth offending team, education support, sessions with a speech and language therapist and mental health and wellbeing support. The benefit of being an all-age service meant the case worker was able to offer mother mental health support. His case worker attended his initial sessions with these services to help him get engaged.

He has not re-offended since and the family say they are much happier. His mother said the service was “really, really fantastic”. “It turned a negative situation into a positive. There would have been more arrests for sure without the support. I’m no longer scared of my son. I have my son back and got our bond back and a happy home.”

The work of the team has also been recognised by a number of awards, including being named best liaison and diversion service in the country in 2017/18.

Lessons learned

As the service has developed, the council has recognised the need for a dedicated pathway for women. The Liaison and Diversion Service now works with Wakefield’s Well Woman Centre.

The centre provides women with support on everything from developing self-esteem to personality disorders and healthy relationships.

Mr Hepworth said: “Having the specialist expertise from the centre has been invaluable. In fact, due to the success of the referral pathway we found ourselves high levels of demand and we began to have waiting list.

“So we worked with the centre to develop the restore project which allows individuals to access the centre and access support until specialist help could be provided. If you keep people waiting you risk them becoming disengaged. I think that is an important lesson we have learned.”

How is the approach being sustained?

Wakefield’s success has meant it has been commissioned to expand the service and now provides a Liaison and Diversion Service in both Leeds and in Bradford. Like the Wakefield service, they are both funded by NHS England. The experience of Wakefield’s team has also been used to inform the development of services nationally.

Former Wakefield Chief Superintendent Mabs Hussain, who worked closely with the service until he left to take up a new post in Manchester in late 2018, said the service has achieved “real success”. “Addressing the root causes of why people turn to crime and assisting them in turning their lives around forms a central part of our approach ad is among the best methods we have of reducing criminality.”


Clint Hepworth
Liaison and Diversion Team Manager
Wakefield Council