Oxfordshire Youth Justice and Exploitation Service

The work of the Youth Justice and Exploitation Service

We are a multi-agency service made up of youth justice, social workers, Police, Health, Probation and Education. Our practitioners work holistically with children, families, and partners to assess, plan and deliver tailored interventions to reduce the risk of offending and exploitation.

The principle aims of the youth justice system are to:

  • Prevent youth crime
  • Reduce the number of first-time entrants to the system
  • Reduce re-offending
  • Reduce the number of young people within the youth secure estate
  • Safeguard young people from harm
  • Protect the public from harm
  • Repair the harm caused by youth crime

In line with the Youth Justice Board's “child first” ethos we are very mindful of language to reduce stigmatization and labelling. We do not use language such as “offender” and rehabilitative and restorative principles are at the heart of our practice, which is why we use the term ‘justice’ in our name instead.

Arrest: What happens?

If a child or young person has been arrested they will normally be taken to the nearest police station. If they are under 18 years old they have the right to have an appropriate adult with them at the police station. An appropriate adult must be over 18 years of age and could be a parent, carer, relative or social worker, youth worker etc. If no one is available the Youth Justice & Exploitation Service provides an Appropriate Adult service from our pool of trained community volunteers; Police custody will arrange this. If the child is under 18 the police must try to contact their parents or carers first.

The police will interview the child or young person and this should always be done with a solicitor for the young person present who has had an opportunity to speak with the young person first. If the young person does not have a solicitor the police will arrange for a duty solicitor to be appointed.

How do the police make decisions?

The police will attempt to gather all information regarding the alleged offence to make a decision on how to proceed. Their decision will be made on the basis of the quality of the evidence, the seriousness of the offence, is prosecution in the public interest and the likelihood of getting a conviction. For less serious crimes a young person could be released from Police custody while further evidence is gathered and these decisions are made, or sometimes for more serious crimes they may be held until they can be taken to court.

Out of Court Disposals (When you don’t have to go to court)

The police will attempt to gather all information regarding the alleged offence to make a decision on how to proceed. Their decision will be made on the basis of the quality of the evidence, the seriousness of the offence, is prosecution in the public interest and the likelihood of getting a conviction. For less serious crimes a young person could be released from Police custody while further evidence is gathered and these decisions are made, or sometimes for more serious crimes they may be held until they can be taken to court. Oxfordshire Youth Justice & Exploitation Service has a Joint Decision-Making Panel which includes the Police, Children’s Social Care, Education and the Liaison & Diversion Service. The purpose of this Panel is to review children the Police refer to decide on the fairest and most proportionate outcome.

Court Disposals  – What can happen at court?

Going to court for a child and any parent can be a stressful, confusing and difficult time. Oxfordshire Youth Justice & Exploitation Service is there to support children and families through the process. We will explain the process and what is likely to happen both before and after the Court process; if you need any clarification please ask our staff.

If the child or young person cannot be dealt with by and Out of Court Disposal they may be ‘charged to court’; essentially they will be given a date to appear at court. Youth Court is a specialist court for children. Youth Courts are less formal than adult courts. Children are called by their first names and the judge or magistrates will speak directly to the child and may ask questions to better understand what’s going on for them. Youth Courts are specially designed to make it easier for children to understand what is happening and feel less intimidated by their surroundings. Cases can be heard by one District Judge (DJ) or three lay magistrates.

Children under 16 must attend with a parent or carer. Sixteen and seventeen-year-olds may attend with a parent, carer or someone to support them. The parent, carer or supporting adult should sit next to their child and remain seated throughout the proceedings.

Most children will go to the Youth Court unless they have been refused bail by the police and there is no youth court available, in which case they will be taken to the adult magistrates’ court for a decision on bail, and from there will have to appear for the next Youth Court. Oxfordshire Youth Justice & Exploitation will be at Court on these occasions to assist the Court in making a decision about the suitability of bail by completing an assessment on the child and their circumstances and, where appropriate, creating an intervention package to support them on bail.

A child jointly charged with an adult will go to the adult magistrates’ court for their first appearance.

At the first appearance, the court will usually ask the child if they are guilty or not guilty, if the child is charged with a ‘grave crime’ the court will decide which court will hear the case. More serious cases may be sent to the Crown Court. The majority of cases will stay in the Youth Court.

Court Sentencing: Understanding youth sentences

Children and young people will be normally be sentenced in a Youth Court. Where an offence indicates a more serious sentence, the case could be heard in Crown Court (where longer sentences can be given).


These are given for the least serious offences and mean that the child or young person is released from court without any further action. They may, however, still get a criminal record.

Absolute Discharge

The court decides not to impose a punishment because the experience of going to court has been punishment enough.

Conditional Discharge

If the child or young person commits another crime within a given period of time, they can be sentenced for the first offence as well as the new one.


The fine should reflect the offence committed and the child or young person’s ability to pay. Where the child or young person is under 16 the parent or carer is required to pay the fine and so it will be their ability to pay that is taken into account when setting the level of the fine.

Referral Orders

The Referral Order is normally the first order a young person can have at court. After a child has been sentenced to this Order a worker from Oxfordshire Youth Justice & Exploitation Service will meet the young person, their parents or carers, and gather information from any professionals involved to carry out an assessment. They will then meet their ‘Referral Order Panel’ so that a ‘contract’ can be agreed with the young person and their parent/carer. This contract will be about how the harm caused by the offence can be mended and how the young person can be supported to not commit further offences.

A parent, carer or responsible adult (including a professional involved) can be required by the Court to attend the Panel meetings.

The following Orders will only be given in court after an assessment has been carried out similar to that for an Out of Court Disposal and a Referral Order. This assessment will be presented as a report to the Court to help them in sentencing and is called a Pre-Sentence Report (PSR). The young person, their parents and any professionals involved will be consulted in the preparation of this report, as it will make recommendations to the court about what order the young person should be sentenced to. If you are a parent make sure you talk with Oxfordshire Youth Justice and Exploitation Service about this report.

Youth Rehabilitation Orders

A Youth Rehabilitation Order will contain one or more ‘Requirements’, which will usually include working with Oxfordshire Youth Justice & Exploitation Service (a Supervision Requirement) and also other activities, such as unpaid work, a curfew or needing to live in a certain place. Typically this will start with appointments with a worker from the YJES at least weekly, sometimes more (depending on risk). It can include electronic monitoring equipment being installed at the young person’s home for up to 3 months. It can also include intensive intervention programmes for up to 25 hours a week over a 3 month period.

Custody (In prison)

Only a very small number of young people receive a custodial sentence for very serious offences. If a child or young person is sentenced to custody they will go to either: – a Secure Children’s Home (SCH), a Secure Training Centre (STC) or Youth Offenders Institute (YOI). For longer sentences they may move from one to another as they get older or their risk changes. The first half of the sentence is usually be served in custody and the second half will be supervised by the YJES in the community.

Oxfordshire Youth Justice & Exploitation Service remain responsible for the child or young person’s case wherever they are placed and will be in frequent contact with the parents/carers, the secure accommodation provider and the young person. Young people will have frequent meetings and reviews which parents should attend. Parents will be able to visit at other times by arrangement with the secure provision. If agreed young people can have telephone contact with family and professionals. Maintaining contact is a high priority for young people in custody as it is a key element for resettlement when they are released.

Contact Oxfordshire YJES if you want to know more if your child or young person is at risk of a custodial sentence.

Criminal records and disclosure

For further information about criminal records and DBS checks please refer to the NACRO website – What is on your criminal record | Support and Advice | Nacro

What interventions do we deliver?

  • Understanding the harm – helping young people repair the harm (Restorative Justice)
  • Reparation – paying back for the harm the young person has caused
  • Unpaid Work – completing work-based and activity tasks, this can be helpful in preparing young people with some skills for employment
  • Education, Employment and Training – helping people get back into education or work
  • Drugs and alcohol work – helping understand drug use and how it affects offending
  • Offending behaviour work – what leads to young people committing offences
  • Communication support – lots of young people have unrecognised communication issues and we have close links with Speech, Language & Communication colleagues
  • Support from CAMHS (mental health)– help with managing emotions and trauma

Restorative Justice

The Restorative Justice Council describes restorative justice as “the process that brings those harmed by crime or conflict and those responsible for the harm into communication, enabling everyone affected by a particular incident to play a part in repairing the harm and finding a positive way forward.” Every young person under youth justice supervision is encouraged to learn about the harm caused by their behaviour and to consider ways in which that harm might be repaired. Our Restorative Justice practitioners consult with the victims of youth crime to hear how they have been affected and explore what they feel might help them to move forward. The practitioner then works closely with both parties to identify whether a positive outcome can be achieved. The majority of youth justice cases involve some form of restorative communication between young people and the person/s harmed by their behaviour, either indirectly through letters or messages, or directly through face-to-face meetings. Many young people also undertake some form of practical work either at the request of their victim or to benefit their community.

Restorative justice is an important process for young people, victims of youth crime and the community and can be transformative and healing for all parties, leading to high levels of satisfaction all round.

Oxfordshire Youth Justice Service was awarded the Restorative Justice Council’s Restorative Service Quality Mark (RSQM) in 2014 and 2017 and is applying to become a Registered Service Provider.

Quotes from service users:

 ‘It has restored my faith in the justice system. I could tell the young person has learnt from his mistakes and agreed to do the reparation work I suggested. This is a positive outcome.’

‘We simply wouldn't have coped as well as we did if hadn't been for the kind & supportive team who were always there to help & guide us during this difficult time’.

Reparation and unpaid work

Where possible young people are supported to complete direct reparative work such as repairing damage to property or raising money for a cause meaningful to the victim/s. In cases where this is not possible or appropriate, the YJES uses a range of community placements through which young people can participate in meaningful tasks that give back to their local community. One of our young people recently made a beautiful bench that now sits in the garden at Headway in Oxford, and another completed a 20km sponsored walk to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support. Placements include:

  • Headway (national charity for people with acquired brain injuries) 
  • Bicester Green (bike and furniture repair, skills and sustainability project) 
  • Helen & Douglas House (charity shop) 
  • Island Farm Donkey Sanctuary Cutteslowe Park (horticulture) 
  • Raw Workshop (wood-work at reclaimed woodshop)

Exploitation Social Work

Our social workers work with children and families to assess, plan and deliver interventions that reduce the risks around exploitation and harm to children outside of their family home. We use holistic, ‘Contextual Safeguarding’ approaches and work closely with children, parents/carers and key partners to do this. This is a statutory function of the service and we work with children and families across a range of planning frameworks from Child in Need, Child Protection through to legal proceedings if a child needs to come into the care of the Local Authority. The primary aims of this work are to safeguard children and families, disrupt and enforce against exploiters of children and divert children away from exploitation by building on their strengths, interests and skills. The service is developing the following projects:

  • Parenting Group to support parents of exploited children 
  • Weapons Awareness Group 
  • 1:1 and Group Mentoring

I have concerns about my child being exploited

You can learn more about the indicators of child criminal exploitation and find further information and support through the following links: