I am delighted to have an opportunity to address the Seanad to discuss the important area of activity in my Department focused on youth justice policy. My Department is responsible for a range of supports to families and children which, although not specific to juvenile offenders, seek to address many of the social and economic contributory factors which may lead to offending behaviour. I am driving reforms to bring about a seamless new approach to policy development for early years right through to youth and young adulthood. I am also trying to integrate service provision for children in order that young people have the best possible outcomes. To design and develop effective policies and services that make a difference, we need to better understand children, their lives, their experiences, their expectations. Fortunately, the range of high quality research we have means that we are data-rich when it comes to children.
The Garda youth diversion projects and youth programmes are giving us good results. The level of youth crime has fallen consistently in the past three years. From 1 May 2012, 16 year old males were transferred from the adult prison system to the Oberstown campus, meaning that 16 year olds are no longer detained in adult prison facilities. I will be introducing legislation to ensure we have a unified approach on the campus at Oberstown. We have appointed a new campus manager, with whom I met yesterday to discuss the preparatory work being done there.
For the first time in the past year, we have a clinical service for young people in special care and detention, the assessment, consultation and therapy service, ACTS.
It is very important this is now in place and we have a professional responsive assessment service available for young people who get into trouble for offending behaviour and end up in detention and that this service can liaise with other professionals, advise the staff on the campus on the particular needs of the young people who arrive there and advise the courts as they develop the services on precisely what Oberstown can offer in terms of assessment. We do not want repeat assessments on these young people who very often have had a huge amount of contact with professionals before they ever arrive in detention. The development of this new professional assessment service and treatment service for these young people at national level is to be greatly welcomed. It means that it will be possible to follow up on the young people who have been in Oberstown.
We have extended the remit of the Ombudsman for Children to 17 year old boys detained in the adult prison system for the period until such detentions cease fully. This was done in agreement with the Minister, Deputy Alan Shatter. It is the first time this responsibility will fall under the remit of the Ombudsman for Children.
As Senators are aware, we have secured capital funding to undertake the national project in Oberstown. This will deliver sufficient new detention facilities to extend the child care model to all under 18 year olds ordered to be detained by the courts. Construction started in September 2013 and all necessary project and risk management structures have been worked out. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, for the great co-operation of the OPW. This is the biggest capital project in which the Government is involved. It will mean that by the third quarter of this year the new facilities required in Oberstown for the transfer of responsibility for the detention of 17 year old males detained in adult prison facilities will be available. This is major progress and something people have spoken about since the 1980s. We will now be able to respond appropriately to young people under the age of 18 years.
Any level of criminal behaviour by young people is a serious social issue for the victims of their crimes, the communities in which they live, the young people and their families. We must not forget the victims of youth offending are very often other young people. A system to deal with this has immediate and longer-term goals. As Senators are very well aware the detention system, the courts system and preventative services need to balance justice, rehabilitation, fairness and accountability. These must be the goals.
Every year a specific cohort of young people in Ireland require targeted strategic attention because of their offending behaviour. It is very interesting to examine the annual reports and the breakdown of offending behaviour. These young people are the focus of the programme for Government, which includes commitments which will impact on youth crime and anti-social behaviour. It is very important that we build up partnerships between local communities and the Garda. We must place emphasis on alternative programmes for young offenders through extensions to the juvenile liaison officer scheme and the diversion programme. We must examine how community organisations work with young people to reduce offending behaviour. We must also end the practice of sending 16 and 17 year old boys to St. Patrick's Institution.
I work very closely with the Department of Justice and Equality and the Irish Youth Justice Service based in the Department of Children and Youth Affairs operates across the two Departments with officials from both working together. The Irish Youth Justice Service is responsible for leading and driving reform in youth justice by focusing on diversion and rehabilitation and examining how we can use community intervention. Senators are very familiar with the work done at local level where gardaí work intensively with youth organisations and local community services. It is very successful. It is a safe and secure environment and helps young people change their ways. For some young people we must provide a safe and secure environment but we work towards rehabilitation into the community at the earliest possible stage.
The Department works in an integrated way to develop strong links between early intervention, prevention and developing closer working relationships between the care system and the justice system.
Often it is arbitrary whether a child ends up in the care system or the justice system. We need to see more integration between the two. It is in the interests of children if we can do this more effectively, because we have to keep children and young people out of the criminal justice system as much as possible.
The youth justice system should be considered in its entirety from the Garda diversion programme through to the Children Court and children detention schools, with detention as a last resort. I want to be clear that detention is a last resort and it is important that this is understood by everyone. The principles of the Children Act 2001 require the various authorities to apply, incrementally, a series of "filters" or tests to each case in which a child comes into conflict with the law. It is about using those filters before using detention. Nevertheless, for a small number of children, detention, unfortunately, is appropriate and has to be used.
The first main filter is the Garda diversion programme. The second main filter is provided by the non-custodial sanctions available to the courts, including dismissal under the Probation Act, unsupervised sanctions, fines, peace bonds and curfews. The next stage involves probation and supervised sanctions and, as a last resort, detention may be used.
My Department continues to provide in the region of €53 million to youth organisations, which have a role to play. That means that we can target supports to those young people who are most likely to come to the attention of the Garda in certain circumstances and in the youth services. They can reach out to these young people. Obviously, the youth services reach out to a much broader range of young people in the population as a whole. Many organisations are working with young people who have been marginalised and who, perhaps, have come to the attention of the Garda but have never been involved in youth organisations. There is great potential for the youth organisations to reach out to those young people. They focus mainly on the ten to 21 year olds and provide youth work to about 400,000 young people. Some 40,000 volunteers work with youth services around the country.
The Garda youth diversion projects, GYDPs, are nationwide, community-based, multi-agency crime prevention initiatives, funded by the Department of Justice and Equality through the community programmes unit co-located in my Department. The 100 projects seek to divert young people from becoming involved in anti-social or criminal behaviour and I am very impressed by the positive outcomes of these Garda youth diversion projects. They work in tandem with the Garda diversion programme which has been in operation since 1963 and was put on a statutory basis in Part 4 of the Children Act 2001. The most recent Garda youth diversion programme report, from 2012, shows that 12,246 young people were referred to the diversion programme. There were approximately 24,000 offences but only 1,822 of that group of young people were considered unsuitable for the programme and their files were returned to the local district officer for a decision on initiating a prosecution before the courts. Clearly, the diversion programme is key to keeping young people out of the criminal justice system. If there is repeat offending, undoubtedly these young people will come back before the courts and will have to follow a different pathway. In 2012 more than 5,000 young people were engaged with the Garda diversion projects, with more than 55% of those having received a caution for committing a crime. In addition, approximately 45% of these young people were targeted for interventions to challenge their behaviour because they were deemed to be in the "at risk of committing a crime" category.
I refer Senators to the White Paper on Crime which recognises the significance of early intervention in breaking the cycle of disadvantage. The focus in my Department, with the launch of the new Child and Family Agency this week after its establishment on 1 January, and the legislation that has just gone through the Seanad is part and parcel of working more effectively with the most vulnerable young children in the country.
Clearly, services such as the early childhood care and education scheme are important. Research, particularly from the United States, shows that early intervention can lower the level of anti-social behaviour at a later stage. One can definitely bring about a reduction if there is high-quality early intervention for young children.
I hope that gives some idea of the work being done. We are making progress on a youth justice action plan for the period 2014-18 and it will be published very shortly. It will outline how we need to proceed when working with the group of young people in question.
There is a small group of young people who are very difficult to help. They present with very complex problems that are very often intergenerational. Problems can be aggravated by alcohol and drugs. We require an increasing number of specialist services to deal with these young people.
On the youth justice action plan, we can say at this point that we know more about the nature of the youth crime problem, and we are more data driven. I am very impressed by the research being done by the Garda diversion projects and the Garda and I am also impressed by their approach to gathering the data. There is a fall in the rate of detected youth crime. These positive changes have occurred at the same time as Ireland's relatively low level of youth detention, which has also experienced further downward trends. There is more effective use of money and we are achieving better outcomes.
The detention schools are at the very serious end of the spectrum where behaviour is concerned. I have outlined the changes proposed for detention. We will have a state-of-the-art campus with a state-of-the-art response and there will be intervention for young people. The outcomes for young people in detention internationally are not good. However, we must ensure that we have the very best model working in the new campus and new units. I acknowledge the change this has meant for the staff in Oberstown. It is important that we change in response to the opportunities that the new campus will present to allow for state-of-the-art intervention for young people. We have had some very difficult discussions, including on changing rosters and on the three units becoming one campus as opposed to three different services. I thank all involved for the progress we are making on the campus regarding these issues.
I hope that gives an idea of the range of services that fall within my Department's remit. We are continuing to work with the board of management and the management of the three detention schools with a view to securing a number of improvements in their operation. We want a more integrated and standardised approach to their work. We want one single, cohesive national detention facility on the Oberstown campus, achieved through the integration of the three detention schools. We also want to see shared services in the detention schools.
There is now a single cross-campus roster for care staff. A central staff allocation office has been established under the Croke Park agreement. This means more flexible deployment of staff, which is important. Work has been done by Ms Janet Hughes, a former rights commissioner who is working with the staff to review the ongoing implementation of the campus roster arrangement and other changes that may be necessary. We recently recruited a new campus manager, Mr. Pat Bergin. I am going into detail on this issue because I know Senators were interested in some of these issues and have been raising them with me at committee meetings. These are the kinds of initiative that have been developed.
There was a HIQA inspection in Oberstown recently, on which the feedback was very positive with regard to the operation of the detention schools. Obviously, HIQA reports on services vary, but this one has shown consistent improvements. The last report was positive. I hope I have been helpful in giving an idea of the developments in the area of youth justice in my Department.