Youth diversion for first time offenders : a view from primary caregivers and family members.
In recent years, youth offending has become the subject of widespread public interest and over the past few decades, various child reform movements have taken place. Child justice reform efforts focus on children’s reintegration into their families and communities and the enhancement of prospects for a crime-free life in the future. It is a system that focuses on holding children responsible through restorative justice approaches. The Child Justice Act (75 of 2008) seeks to achieve this balance by reflecting societal concerns and responding reflectively and proportionately to children in the criminal justice system. The Act is based on restorative justice principles and provides the framework for a criminal justice system specifically geared to deal with youth offenders. Section 2 of the Act makes specific provisions for the diversion of children away from the criminal justice system to suitable reintegrative and rehabilitative diversion programmes. Currently diversion programmes are aimed at the youth, with minimal input required from parents and family members. While much has been written and researched about how dysfunctional families can contribute to children turning to crime, the role of parents and families more generally in preventing repeat offending and misbehaviour is under-researched. There is also a dearth of research on the implementation and outcomes of diversion programmes and more specifically on the role of the family before, during, and after the diversion process. An intriguing issue is how parents of children attending a diversion programme view their child’s offending behaviour, the diversion process itself, their involvement in the process, and ways that can be introduced to improve and/or increase their level of involvement. The study found that the majority of the children benefitted from the programme in terms of positive behaviour change and preventing reoffending. Parents who had supported their children during the course of the programme tended to have better relationships with their children, and were able to sustain the outcomes of the programmes more efficiently. This study concludes by making recommendations in respect of how restorative justice values and principles can be adequately incorporated and enhanced through the participation of all children in conflict with the law in Family Group Conferencing.