As far as possible children and young people should be kept out of the youth and criminal justice system, with considerable progress having been made over recent years in achieving this. However for those children and young people who do end up in formal systems, the experience can be confusing and frightening and it can be difficult for children and young people, their families, and professionals to know where to find readily accessible, coordinated information. Therefore this guide describes the stages in the youth and criminal justice process for under 18s in Scotland, from suspicion of having committed an offence through to support after completion of sentence.

The law, processes, practices, guidance and responsibilities are explained with links to further information and resources. It supports – but does not replace – the skills and requirements of relationship-based practice, partnership working and information sharing.

For simplicity the guide shows the journey as a sequence of stages on a map: in reality, local practice may vary and children and young people may move back and forth between different stages. The dominant focus is also on those children and young people who progress to court and possible disposals, but as stated it a number of children and young people involved in offending will not enter formal systems or will exit the youth and criminal justice system prior to court.

It’s important to remember that youth justice is practiced within the wider context of child and adult support and protection. Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) and the youth justice strategy ‘Preventing Offending Getting it right for children and young people’ provide the overarching policy framework while Multi-Agency Public Protection Arrangements and equality are also relevant. For more details about the law and practice in these topics see the Appendix.

We have also developed Journey through Justice, which is an interactive online resource designed specifically to help children and young people understand the journey through the youth justice system, following being charged with an offence by the police.

Using the map

The map portrays the young person's journey as a series of stages. It reads from top to bottom with some stops offering branches onto other paths – for example the Sentence stage branches onto Community-based disposals, Secure Care or Young Offender's Institutions, reflecting the sentencing options of the youth and criminal justice system in Scotland.

There are three ways to traverse the map: by using the links on the map illustration itself, by using the 'next' or 'previous' links at the bottom of every page, or via the site menu that can be revealed by activating the menu icon at the top right of your window.

Start the journey