Almost everything published about youth crime revolves around dealing with young offenders.  While this is important, what is more important is preventing young people from offending in the first place.  Rehabilitation programs for young offenders are reactive, not proactive.  Until this basic truth is acknowledged, we will always be playing catch up in dealing with youth crime issues.

The CAA has recently published an article entitled, “CALL TO ACTION – YOUTH CRIME,” in which we outlined the need for a Police in Schools Program, such as the one introduced in Victoria in 1989 that ran until 2016, to teach young people the basic tenets of good citizenship.  A proven program that achieved excellent results in turning youngsters away from crime.

Although similar programs are implemented worldwide, Victoria has failed to re-introduce an effective version into schools in this State.

Part of the Victoria Police’s statutory function is Crime Prevention. Victoria Police Act 2013, Section 11, (c). It is incumbent on Victoria Police to take every possible step to stem the tide of crime, and this is particularly so in relation to Juvenile crime, which is out of control.

Early intervention, where it is apparent that young people are at risk of lapsing into a life of vice or crime, also needs to be a priority.

The provision for dealing with young people who were likely to lapse into a life of vice or crime was abolished in Victoria. This phrase appeared on some child welfare records and was a convenient term for one of the definitions of a neglected child. Specifically, it referred to a child who was at risk of falling into a career of vice or criminal behaviour.

Some people, like doctors, nurses, midwives, teachers, school principals and police officers, must tell the department if they believe a child is being harmed or at serious risk of harm.

The Department of Families, Fairness and Housing (DFFH) (Child Protection) must investigate every report. This can include speaking to the child, family members and other people involved with the family.

As each family’s situation is different the department may decide not to do anything, or they might get involved with the family for a short or long time.

Child protection

If anyone has formed a reasonable belief that a child has suffered or is likely to suffer significant harm as a result of abuse or neglect and their parent has not or is unlikely to protect them from harm, they can make a report to Child Protection.

Meeting the needs of children and making sure they are safe in the family is a shared responsibility between individuals, the family, the community and the government. When adults caring for children do not follow through with their responsibilities, are abusive or exploit their positions of power, then child protection is empowered to investigate the concerns and intervene to protect the child legally when required.

The Victorian Child Protection Service is specifically targeted to support those children and young people at risk of harm or where families are unable to protect them.

The main functions of Child Protection are to:

Investigate matters where it is alleged that a child is at risk of significant harm.

Refer children and families to services that assist in providing the ongoing safety and well-being of children.

Make applications to the Children’s Court if the child’s safety cannot be ensured within the family.

Administer protection orders granted by the Children’s Court.

During 2019-20, 174,700 (31 per 1,000) Australian children received child protection services (investigation, care and protection order and/or were in out-of-home care).  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were eight times as likely as non-Indigenous children to have received child protection services. Children from geographically remote areas were more likely to be the subject of substantiation or be in out-of-home care than those from major cities.  Over 5,300 children were reunified with family during 2019–20.  Sixty-seven per cent of children who received child protection services were repeat clients.  This figure alone shows that the system is not effective.

Overall, what seems to be sound policy and practice is clearly not working.

It is not working because all this, although expressed in proactive terms, is actually reactive, intervention occurring only when a problem already exists.

What is needed is proactive programs that prevent problems from arising.

When parents are failing in their responsibilities, the only resolution is through education, and school alone gives access to almost all children where they can be given guidance and life skills.

In terms of youth crime, a partnership between teachers and police is a proven formula that does make a difference.

Mentoring and Youth Support

A mentor who spends time helping a young person is invaluable.  They can help a young person with things, for example:


Coping with bullying;

Finding employment;

Strategies to stay safe;

Coping with peer pressure:

Avoiding alcohol and illicit drugs.

Youth inclusion and support panels made up of people like local youth or social workers to work with young people to make sure they get access to local services that will help them stay out of trouble.


The expanded factors in bail laws require the Courts to consider the potentially adverse effects of a child being held in custody.  Rather than reducing re-offending, research shows that placing children in a custodial environment increases the likelihood that they will reoffend. They are exposed to violence and negative peer groups, and displaced from family and education opportunities. Children leave custody with deteriorated mental health and an elevated risk of self-harm. The new considerations require a Court to confront the consequences of detaining a child – potential recidivism and harm to the child – which are factors that should not sit comfortably with most decision-makers.

However, the factors outlined above exist only when sensible, viable alternatives are not considered.

An alternative to custody in many cases is home detention where the child can, as a condition of bail, be required to stay at home with an exception of being able to attend school, which should be mandatory.

Compliance with such a condition can be achieved through the use of an electronic tracking device, which, in this age of technology, can be designed to look like an ordinary wristwatch to avoid any stigmatisation of the child.

A further condition of bail must be a prohibition of fraternising with any co-offenders to break the nexus of peer pressure.


The bail provisions set out above could equally be adopted as a sentencing option, thus avoiding the possibility of a child being further corrupted in a custodial situation.


The financial savings would be such that establishing a Monitoring Centre to keep track of young people on bail or under sentence would be a fraction of the costs of incarceration.


Immediately reintroduce a Police in Schools Program, such as the one introduced in Victoria in 1989 that ran until 2016, to teach young people the basic tenets of good citizenship.

Establish other proactive programs of interest to young people where they can express themselves safely and lawfully, be that through sport, music, art or anything else that is appropriate.

Establish mentoring and youth support panels.

Introduce bail practices as outlined in this article.

Adopt a sentencing regime that uses home detention in appropriate cases.