Youth help 'too little, too late'
Efforts to rescue troubled young people from a life of crime in Northern Ireland are too little, too late, a report said.
By the time the authorities intervene social problems are already well-entrenched and many children in the care system have experienced domestic violence, exclusion from school and drugs misuse.
The Northern Ireland Criminal Justice Inspectorate have published a report calling for government commitment to tackle the root causes of crime.
Acting chief inspector Brendan McGuigan said: "The path to the youth justice system is a well-trodden one, yet we as a society seem incapable of helping some young people to move off it."
A third of looked-after children in the care system have experienced domestic violence or had special learning needs, the review said. Most were excluded from school or absconding and misused drugs or alcohol. A third had also self-harmed.
Mr McGuigan added: "What is clear is that for many young people it was a case of too little, too late. All too often interventions attempt to deal with social problems that are already well-entrenched. This is not only ineffective in helping those young people with issues that contribute to criminal behaviour, it is also more expensive."
Inspectors could not get a complete picture of the number, types and funding of early intervention programmes available in Northern Ireland but found there was a myriad of providers, funding streams and methodologies.
Mr McGuigan added: "In relation to the situation in Northern Ireland generally and the justice system specifically, there was a lack of co-ordination, a risk of duplication and a lack of evaluation which made it difficult to assess effectiveness and value for money."
He said ultimately the question of whether to fully commit to early interventions tackling problems like domestic violence was one for ministers and would involve co-operation between those responsible for health and social care, education, criminal justice, social development and employment and learning.
Mr McGuigan added: "If there is a desire for a move to early interventions then a joined-up system of governance, accountability, funding, delivery, evaluation of outcomes and ultimately a shared vision of success is essential. This report calls for a clear commitment to such an approach. The challenge is immense. The alternative is a continued failure, as a society, for our most vulnerable children."