Evaluation of Youthlaw’s Pre-court support for adolescents using violence in the home
The Report highlights that early, specialist legal and non-legal support and pre-court negotiations, often results in timely and effective outcomes for young people, reduces harmful contact with the justice system and improved safety for their families.
In 2022 the CIJ was pleased to release its report on Phase 1 of the Evaluation of Youthlaw’s Pre-court Support for Adolescents using violence in the home (AVITH) Pilot. This program offering early intervention and integrated support to young people subject to intervention order proceedings drew on findings from the CIJ’s PIPA project.
The Evaluation of the program highlighted a number of key program strengths, including:
- the delivery of legal and non-legal support via a Program Lawyer and Youth Family Violence Practitioner with specialist skills in developmentally-appropriate practice and engagement – which in turn improved young people’s engagement and understanding of the legal process;
- the establishment of early referral pathways from a range of frontline services and agencies, which meant that young people could receive legal advice and support prior to the day of court and outside of a chaotic court environment; and
- the capacity of the integrated practice team to link young people in with relevant supports which could mitigate the risk of violence within the family, as well as to create space for young people to disclose their own (historical and current) experiences of violence.
While it was expected that these elements of the Pilot would contribute to improved engagement and understanding of the conditions of final orders, the evaluation found that the vast majority of young people supported through the Pilot exited without any order in place, significantly reducing the likelihood of escalating justice system contact. In addition, legal matters were resolved with fewer adjournments; related criminal matters were able to be streamlined and the majority were able to be resolved through caution or diversion; and more young people had their intervention order matter resolved without ever needing to come to court.
For families who often reach out to police simply because they want their young person to receive the support that they need, these findings suggest that early, specialist and integrated legal and non-legal support can reduce harmful contact with the justice system while simultaneously improving safety for families. Crucially, the evaluation also emphasised the prevalence of experiences of adult-perpetrated family violence across the Pilot cohort, including multiple young people who had been misidentified as the predominant aggressor within the family. Where these disclosures were able to inform legal advocacy (including out-of-court negotiations), they often contributed to more appropriate and just outcomes for young people.
The Victorian Government subsequently provided funding for Youthlaw to continue delivering the program until end June 2024. The CIJ is therefore delighted to embark on a second stage of its evaluation, with this phase centring young people’s voices and experiences as a priority now that the program itself has become successfully bedded down.