There are 105 Garda Youth Diversion Projects in Ireland. They seek to divert young people (aged between 12 and 17) from becoming involved/further involved in anti-social or criminal behaviour, while increasing pro-social behaviour.
However, a small number of young people were involved in more serious breaches during lockdown which tended to be associated with alcohol or drug misuse.
Surveys were conducted with youth justice workers who deal with a minority group of marginalised young people.
Most reported compliance is in ‘keeping within the 2km distance’, but less so in ‘maintaining social distance’ and ‘not gathering in groups’.
Some projects also reported that non-compliance by adult family members and communities with Covid-19 public health measures had a negative influence on some young people’s compliance.
Speaking about the study, Dr Sean Redmond (pictured), Principal Investigator REPPP Programme and Adjunct Professor of Youth Justice at UL’s School of Law, said:
“I think the news is good. The majority of young people who are linked in with a Garda Youth Diversion Project appeared to be complying with Government restrictions regarding social distancing and travel.
“A minority of young people were not complying, continuing to meet with their friends. Some are reported to have been involved in offending and anti-social behaviour, but overall this activity appears to be reduced since COVID-19.
“This group of young people represents a very small proportion of the youth population in Ireland, possibly 1/1000. However, it is an interesting group because they are young people who have been detected for committing crime and referred to a Garda Youth Diversion Project.
“If you accept that a large amount of youth crime normally takes place ‘outdoors’ then given the time of year you might expect to see widespread evidence of public order type crime continuing.
“According to our respondents this does not appear to be the case. On the contrary, we received reports of high levels of compliance and actually examples of altruistic behaviour by young people toward family members and community residents”
The study also looked at lifestyle changes for the youths in the Garda diversion projects and found that a lack of routine and structure had a considerable impact on this cohort of young people’s sleep patterns.
Several projects reported that young people were connecting with other young people during the night (through on-line gaming and social media for those with access to technology) and sleeping during the day.
Several projects expressed concerns for the young people’s mental health and difficulties with the lack of face-to-face interactions required to maintain effective trust-based relationships with young people.
While there were reports that the young people’s additional caring duties for both younger siblings and grandparents were contributing to strengthening family relationships, there were also concerns raised about increased conflict within some families.
Speaking on the launch of the research Report, Minister of State with responsibility for Youth Justice, David Stanton, commented on the help that young people are providing to their own families, and others in their community, during the pandemic.
“I was proud of our young people when I read that the majority of projects reported that young people were involved in pro-social behaviours and activities during the pandemic.
“These behaviours include self-care activities (including exercise, maintaining connectedness), which is so important for all of us in these challenging times.
“The pro-social activities range from household chores, to helping out their parents or caregivers, to helping out in their community by taking on chores for elderly citizens who may be cocooning or otherwise restricting the amount of time they are spending outside the home.”