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Report finds majority of youth offenders are compliant with Covid-19 restrictions

Report from the University of Limerick indicates majority of young people participating in Garda Youth Diversion Projects are complying with Covid-19 restrictions

It identifies that non-compliance by adult family members, or local community, contribute to young people’s non-compliance in some cases

Report finds majority of young people are engaged in pro-social behaviours and activities during the pandemic – staying active, keeping connected, participating in household chores and helping out in the community

Report is a collaboration between the REPPP project in the University of Limerick and the Department of Justice & Equality

A study carried out by researchers at University of Limerick has found that a majority of young people participating in Garda Youth Diversion Projects are being compliant with Covid-19 restrictions.

The study was undertaken by the Research Evidence into Policy, Programmes and Practice (REPPP) project, based in the School of Law, University of Limerick, with funding from the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.

The report is the first in a series looking at how young people participating in the Garda Youth Diversion Projects (GYDP) throughout Ireland are responding to the Covid-19 public health measures. Surveys were conducted with Youth Justice Workers (YJWs) in Garda Youth Diversion Projects in the context of the Government’s Covid-19 public health measures introduced on March 12. The Youth Justice Workers were asked questions about a minority group of young people, who tend to be more marginalised.

Compliance / non-compliance

A majority of the projects reported that this cohort of young people tended to be compliant in ‘keeping within the 2km distance’, but less so in ‘maintaining social distance’ and ‘not gathering in groups’. The majority  of projects reported that a small minority of this cohort of young people were non-compliant with the Covid-19 public health measures, for example, meeting friends in groups.

Speaking on the launch of the research Report, Minister of State with responsibility for Youth Justice, David Stanton TD, 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 help 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.

The young people of Ireland are standing up and supporting their families, and their communities, in these unprecedented times, and they should be acknowledged for this.

It proves to me that this cohort of youth offenders are engaged with their local communities, and that they are really trying hard during this pandemic to turn a corner, and it is imperative that we support them in doing so. My Department is running an online consultation in preparation for our new Youth Justice Strategy, and I would encourage all young people to get involved and have their voices heard. 

The Minister continued,

This is an important piece of research, and I want to thank the those working in the REPPP project in the School of Law, University of Limerick, and officials in the Department of Justice for working closely together on this, and providing such a comprehensive report so quickly.

While I acknowledge that the figures are based on a very specific cohort of young people, I am encouraged at some of these results. They demonstrate an understanding, amongst a majority of young people, of the importance of staying home, and certainly within the 2km distance that was in place for a number of weeks.

I would also acknowledge the report from a number of GYDPs nationally that the occurrence of anti-social or offending behaviour in their communities had decreased during the pandemic.

The report does find that a small number of young people were involved in more serious breaches, and these tended to be associated with alcohol or drug misuse.

Some projects also reported that non-compliance by adult family members and communities had a negative influence of some young people’s compliance with Covid-19 public health measures.

Speaking about the study, Dr Sean Redmond, 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.

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.

Dr Catherine Naughton, research psychologist on the programme, explained:

We have surveyed 105 Garda Youth Diversion Projects in communities across Ireland. Respondents were specialist youth workers who reported on young people involved with their project and their compliance and coping behaviours. Almost all projects responded to the survey, so the patterns are very compelling.

The Department of Justice and Equality and Department of Children and Youth Affairs facilitated us by very quickly agreeing for our researchers to redirect their efforts toward the Covid-19 study.

This is the first in a series of surveys with specialist youth worker reporting on young people’s behaviour in local communities during the Covid-19 crisis. While from a public health point of view we are interested in compliance with restrictions, we are also using the survey to give more rounded pictures of how young people and their families are coping and how this important project is adapting to help.

This first report provides a generalised national view of young people’s behaviours and changes in GYDP practice since the start of Covid-19 pandemic.

Researchers in the University of Limerick are working on a second Report which will attempt to give a more detailed analysis of the prevalence and frequency of both pro-social and antisocial behaviours by the young people at a more localised level during this pandemic.

The first report has been published on the Department of Justice & Equality website here:

Report on compliance with Covid-19 restrictions among Garda Youth Diversion Project participants (DJE-UL

Notes for Editors

For further information, please contact:


Sheena Doyle

Communications Manager

University of Limerick

+353 86 380 7859

What are Garda Youth Diversion Projects (GYDPs)?

GYDP are youth development projects operated by independent youth organisations located in the community and funded by the Department of Justice and Equality. There are 105 projects located throughout 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.

How the study was conducted:

-          104 of the 105 GYPDs volunteered to be part of the research project

-          Youth Justice Workers have a close working relationship with young people who have been involved or are of high risk of becoming involved in anti-social behaviour within the community. While this is a small group of young people (1/1000 of young people in Ireland), it represents a consistent cohort of young people across the country

-          While the findings are based on the perspective of the youth justice workers their responses were informed by young people (97%) their parents (91%) co-workers (95%) Gardaí (77%) other community workers (70%) providing a comprehensive overview of a particular cohort of young people throughout Ireland (other studies have captured the view of young people only)

-          Although given a very short turnaround 97% of the GYDPs completed the first survey

-          Report 1 gives a generalised national view of young people’s behaviours and changes in GYDP practice since the start of Covid-19 pandemic

-          Report 2 (in progress) will attempt to give a detail analysis of prevalence and frequency of both pro-social and antisocial behaviours by the young people at a more localised level

The study also revealed some challenges and benefits for the Garda Youth Diversion Project to consider.

-          Several projects reported their concerns of the lack of face-to-face interactions required to maintain effective trust-based relationships with the young people.

-          Projects have adapted to use various online and media platforms to maintain contact with the young people. However, several projects highlighted the need for updated guidelines/ policies to reflect this change in communication procedures.

-          Several projects reported that the young people welcome the continuity of contact with them during the pandemic.

-          Several projects reported a need for flexibility to their normal working patterns (to include late evenings and weekends) to accommodate young people’s change in routine (sleeping during the day).

-          Projects also reported increased interaction with the young people’s parents/caregivers, where they provided practical support, for example information on Covid-19 public health measures, managing young people’s behaviour and delivering essential supplies 

-          Projects identified a number of key resources that would facilitate their work with young people and their families including, technological supports, financial aid for particularly vulnerable families, additional sanitisation products for families and access to online training.