163. Deputy Christopher O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Justice the progress made in relation to the youth justice strategy; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57973/21]
Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Deputy James Browne): As the Deputy will be aware, Minister McEntee and I launched the Youth Justice Strategy 2021-2027 earlier this year. The immediate priority within the new Strategy is to enhance engagement with children and young people who are most at risk of involvement in criminal activity, principally by strengthening the services available through the existing network of 105 Youth Diversion Projects (YDPs) across the State.
YDPs engage with young people through a range of supports, including education, training and employment support, social enterprise initiatives, as well as personal development activities and supports such as mentoring. Experience in the operation of the Children Act highlights the need to include children below the age of criminal responsibility (12 for most offences) in preventative measures, and to consider the extension of measures to divert young offenders away from the criminal justice system beyond the age of 18.
Dedicated cross-agency oversight structures have been established to monitor and support the implementation of the Youth Justice Strategy, and these are further assisted by a Youth Justice Advisory Group, which I chair, that provides a standing forum to reflect views and concerns from the community sector and expert stakeholders. The commitment in the strategy to evidence-informed policies and practice is further enhanced through a Research Evidence into Policy Programmes and Practice (REPPP) Advisory Group which allows input from the wider research community to support the REPPP research partnership with University of Limerick.
I am pleased to note that the additional €6.7m provided for in Budget 2022 represents an increase of in excess of one third in support for youth justice services. It provides the resources to kick-start delivery of key objectives in the Youth Justice Strategy and, in particular, the programme to expand and deepen the range of supports made available through local YDP services. The main elements of this work are:
- Establishment of a limited number of new youth projects and boundary extensions of existing projects so as to ensure that the youth diversion services are available throughout the State by end-2022 or shortly thereafter.
- Enhancement of the youth diversion service, in accordance with identified local needs, to include:
- Early intervention and family support work
- Outreach with harder-to-engage young people
- Support for schools to retain challenging children
- Other specific initiatives e.g. in relation to anti-social use of scramblers and knife crime issues.
- Dedicated research and expert support, including best practice support for the nationwide project network, facilitated by the REPPP project team in the University of Limerick. Question No. 164 answered with Question No. 155.