Whole System Approach

The Scottish Government’s Whole System Approach (WSA) was introduced in 2011 aiming to address the needs of young people who offend. It is underpinned by Getting it Right For Every Child (GIRFEC) and based on research which shows that the long term outcomes for young people involved in offending behaviour could be improved by diverting them away from statutory measures, prosecution and custody.

Aberdeenshire Council has implemented this approach since 2012. It is important to remember that the vast majority of our young people are a credit to themselves, their parents and guardians, their schools, and communities. It is only a very small minority who get involved in offending, and an even smaller minority of them that cause the most serious problems.

Young people are still growing in maturity and, if offered timely, appropriate and proportionate interventions, have a better chance of changing their behaviour. In general terms, the focus is on diverting young people from further offending, rather than punishing through the courts ideology which is in keeping with the principles of the children’s hearings system.


The Scottish Government has prioritised work that supports partners to take forward the development of the WSA. This approach involves putting in place streamlined and consistent planning, assessment and decision-making processes for young people who offend, ensuring they receive the right help at the right time. The ethos of the WSA suggests that many young people could and should be diverted from statutory measures, prosecution and custody through early intervention and robust community alternatives.

The whole system approach aims to support all local areas to achieve positive outcomes for some of our most vulnerable young people, to ensure they reach their full potential and become successful contributors to their communities and wider society through:

  • Early and Effective Interventions (EEI) (PDF 451KB) for low level offences, offering support and advice to young people in order to address need and change behaviour
  • diversion from prosecution, where the needs and risks of the young person are addressed
  • robust alternatives to secure care and custody; locking up young people is not effective in reducing reoffending; by providing the Children’s Panel and Courts with robust alternatives to custody; young people’s risks and needs can be addressed within the community
  • effective risk management measures; where the risks some young people present is managed by partners through the children’s hearings system as opposed to adult courts
  • supporting young people if they do appear in court, to aid their understanding of the process and advise decision makers of options available within the community
  • support offered as part of reintegration and transition back to the community from secure care and custody, including working with families in order to reduce re-offending
  • encouraging more cases to be dealt with through the children’s hearings system rather than adult court
  • retaining more young people on supervision requirements through the children’s hearing system, where there is a need to do so