A practice-based approach to youth justice: the whole system approach in Scotland

Laura Robertson

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Abstract / Description of output

This thesis investigates the development of a practice-based approach to youth justice – the Whole System Approach (WSA) in Scotland. Introduced nationally in 2011, the WSA aims to improve long-term outcomes for children and young people in the youth justice system by diverting them away from statutory measures. This PhD focuses on two key strands of the WSA which deal with low to mid-level level offending: Early and Effective Intervention and Diversion from Prosecution. After a punitive period in Scottish youth justice policy in the early 2000s, the WSA signalled a return to welfarist principles based on multi-agency working between statutory and non-statutory organisations.
A mixed method case study of the implementation of the approach in one local authority was conducted to provide an in-depth account of the development of Early and Effective Intervention and Diversion from Prosecution; considering these within the local context. Interviews with practitioners involved in these processes on the ground revealed intricacies of the daily implementation of the WSA in practice. Interviews with policy actors enabled perspectives on the national implementation of the WSA particularly around variations in national practice and long-term sustainability. Triangulating referral data on a sample of 65 cases of children and young people alongside interviews provides an illustrative case study of these processes and the use of restorative justice as a disposal in the case study area.
Locating this research within an existing body of literature on street-level bureaucracy and criminal justice decision-making, this thesis provides a new perspective on youth justice multi-agency implementation and decision-making. This research found that the translation of the WSA into practice was premised on holistic operational understandings. This thesis provides a unique case study on the implications of increased local autonomy in youth justice within the context of central-local governance reform as well as a narrative of how youth justice practice evolved in a changing political, structural and organisational context. The new multi-agency modes of working under the WSA have led to the sharing of expertise in decision-making, as well as an increase in disposals available to gatekeepers, but have ultimately retained autonomy for decision-making within key youth justice organisations. For 16 and 17-year-olds in transition from the youth to adult system, this thesis sheds light on perceptions of this group and how decision-making rests on their responsibilisation, leaving this group very much at the interface of, and overlapping, two systems. Overall, this thesis has several policy and practice implications, which may serve to take deliberations about youth justice in Scotland forward.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Glasgow
Award date20 May 2022
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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