Lessons from NZ on what works to stop children and young people getting caught up in the criminal justice system

This is second guest blog by Laura Chipp, who was awarded the Jack Brockhoff Foundation Churchill Fellowship for 2019. Her Fellowship is focused on finding the best international practice and evidence base for creating an optimum legislated, conditional cautioning scheme for children and young people under 18 years.

You can read more in her first JYP network blog here and watch this video where she explains why diverting children from crime matters.

This blog covers the first leg of her journey to New Zealand. For the moment, the rest of her travels have been put on hold due to global travel restrictions. Laura will publish an interim report on New Zealand in August and when possible, will travel to the US, Spain and Germany to complete her travels.

Hello, my name is Laura Chipp. I recently took leave from my role for 8 weeks as the Managing Principal Lawyer leading the statewide Specialist Children’s Court Prosecution Unit at Victoria Police to embark on my Winston Churchill fellowship (CF) on 8 March 2020.

My Fellowship has been awarded for me to investigate and publish a report, to gather international best practice approaches for youth justice pre charge diversion /enhanced police cautions and diversion for youth crime for Victoria and hopefully across Australia, and beyond. This blog is about my travels and findings from New Zealand.

Pre departure thoughts

I am very excited to be departing. Day_0_-_before_leaving[1]

I have planned to conduct my CF over 56 days where I will be travelling across 5 countries to do field research and conduct many interviews, searching for best pre-charge diversion for children to aim to keep kids out of the criminal justice system using the earliest intervention via Police Led Diversion / pre charge diversion.

I leave on 8 March 2020, and return back home to Australia on 4 May 2020.

In preparation, I have my old school color coded appointment diary with the 74 meetings I have organised in the last 6 months, which spreads across 12 cities in 5 countries. My focus is to find best Police led diversion practices, that stop and keep children out of the criminal justice system which will also create safer communities in Victoria and across Australia.

My written report will be finalised and published by the end of July 2020, prior to the new Youth Justice Bill (Vic) being finalised at the end of  2020 or early 2021. The timing of publishing my report will also hopefully be a few days before my pending baby daughter Scarlett is born on 4 August 2020 (you may see in my photos on social media of my little girl growing during my CF, as my brain also grows with pre-charge child diversion best practice knowledge from across the world).

DAY 1: 8 March 2020
Day_1_-_flying[1]And off I go…. out on the hunt to find you; international best practice on how to best divert kids away and stay out of our youth justice system… Day 1 of 56 on my CF, first stop Wellington New Zealand.

DAY 2: 9 March 2020
I am already mind blown! What a way to start my  Fellowship interviewing Principal Youth Court Judge John Walker in Wellington NZ:


“…Court is the last resort. 75% of all youth crime matters are diverted and no charge is laid on the child by Police.” Judge Walker.

I can’t wait to find out more, and how NZ gets these increase statistics:

👩🏼‍⚖️ Wellington Youth Court: sits once per fortnight, has only 1 Court open & hears only 6-12 cases in that day.
👨🏽‍⚖️ Melbourne Children’s Court: sits everyday, with 2-3 Courts open & hears 60-80+ cases each day.

✅NZ slashes Court time, costs & reoffending rates by successfully diverting 80%+ of cases WITHOUT charging #children.

✅NZ also has a further holistic in-Court youth diversion programs. This highly used approach significantly ⬇️ youth crime as well as 🛑 youth reoffending.

💬”A young person can rip up having their own future criminal record; if they earn it, by completing their Court diversion conditions, which has regular progress hearings monitored by the Court & NZ Youth Aid Police..”

💬”Court criminal records do not work. Jail does not work. Only rehabilitation works.” – a NZ Judge from Auckland.

I also met with the Department of Corrections to discuss their views and opinions on their YJ system, as well as Dr Nessa Lynch at University of Wellington.

DAY 3: 10 March 2020
Today I met the Youth Sector and Departments to get their advice how we can model a pre-charge caution/diversion system here in Victoria, on the highly successful NZ Model….in Wellington NZ.

We discussed this important holistic youth sector collaborative approach with the fantastic members of Youth Crime Action Plan (YCAP) Steering Committee.

My main take home from this meeting of minds was that:

“…We need a tailored response for children with local community groups and  government agencies working together; side by side with Police.” 📖🖊


‪I also met with Judge O’Dwyer and observed Wellington Youth Court, which was fascinating how the whole Court dynamic and language used was all centred around ensuring that the young person understood what was happening.

Clear communication and language is one of the keys to why the NZ youth justice system works. This is especially important during Court proceedings (but also by Police interactions) to ensure it is clearly communicated and explained to the child, their support workers and their family: clear communication as what the kid has to do, and what they are not allowed to do, in language that they understand, is crucial to compliance.

DAY 4: 11 March 2020
Today in Wellington I met the incredible man himself, former Principal Youth Court Judge and now Children’s Commissioner NZ Judge Becroft. Day_4-_Judge_Becroft[1]

His Honour regarding NZ’s success for their ‘Alternative Action’ aka pre-charge diversion system:

‪“…Good alternative action [for youth] enlists community support using local strengths, where specialist trained Youth Police [called Youth Aid] are facilitating best wrap around responses; this is where alternative action is at its best.”

What a delight it was meeting this worldwide legend of the Youth Justice system.

Further, today’s key findings in Wellington Police HQ: Youth Diversion is truly embraced by NZ Police leadership, police culture and practice. Each member has a deeply engrained commitment and understanding of the significant benefits and positive outcomes of youth diversion.

I spent an amazing day absorbing all the information and advice from the incredible Senior Sgt Greg Clarke and Legal Counsel Rhonda Thompson at NZ Police National HQ in Wellington… both are youth justice and diversion specialists.

Their secret?

“Early intervention & prevention stops kids entering and remaining in the criminal justice system.”

This embedded mindset and culture within New Zealand Police is the critical key to their success in stopping an astonishing 75% of ALL youth offenders entering the Court system.

Day_5_-_Auckland_Police_and_Genisis[1]“NZ Police’s strong mindset of ‘Prevention First’ is embedded in each level of Police. The focus of all Police in NZ is diversion including the benefits and positive outcomes that “alternative action” (not charging children) has; this is paramount for the child, their family & community safety.”

I learnt so much from them about how far we can come with writing this new Youth Justice Bill and focusing on evidence based early intervention diversions for our kids in Victoria.

DAY 5: 12 March 2020

Today I started off interviewing little Liam in Wellington who has an actual lived experience of being a child, and see what he thinks the best early intervention to stop children entering into the youth justice would be…. 😉 Day_5-_Laura_and_Liam[1]

My reflection findings from Day 5 of my CF continued, with firstly jumping on a flight from Wellington to Auckland, New Zealand.

Today I met what I think will be the key to us in Victoria being able to change the whole youth justice system to divert children away from youth crime, where more than 80% are never charged or have to go to Court.

Instead, kids with Police, must work on their underlining issues on a ‘Alternative Action Plan’ along with the support from cross agencies and Youth Workers.

In a meeting with a very experienced Auckland New Zealand Police Specialist Youth Aid Senior Sergeant, he observed:

“Kids make bad, bad decisions, but they outgrow them. I was that kid. Youth Aid Police Officers want to help these kids get out of the system early, with empathy, using respect, persistence and consistency to ensure we develop trust from the kid and also their families”. Day_6-_Senuor_Sgt_Greg_Clark[1]

The key is the Specialist Youth Aid division of NZ Police, secondly the fantastic youth organisions like Genisis founder Rob Woodley (and former Police officer) who provide pre-court focused early intervention programs and finally a youth justice system that focuses on assisting children at their early contact with the Police, holistically, authentically and genuinely.

Many Youth Aid Police officers agreed with the following comment from one of the officers:

“Alternative Action is the reason I joined Youth Aid in NZ Police as I genuinely wanted to make a difference and did not want to send kids to jail.”

DAY 6: 13 March 2020
Sadly, my ability to attend and shadow Maori Court in Auckland was not able to be facilitated today. It allowed me to do catch up work and confirm final plans across Missouri, Louisiana and New York for the follow week/weeks to come.

Reflecting on this rapidly changing world, I am at a loss of what we can do to end this COVIDー19 ripping apart our future.

Who knows what is come in the immediate future due to this pandemic, and how it will impact my CF travels…wait and see…

DAY 7: 14 March 2020
I just found this quote from a speech by Sir Winston Churchill titled “Why should we fear for our future” from 16 August 1945. This is the quote as an extract from Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat: The Great Speeches of Winston Churchill):


For me personally, this speech calms me by reminding me that like always in our history, that just over that mountain, sometime in the future, there will be a small glimmer of light shining through the consuming black crystal clouds; which is all we can see currently enveloping and darkening the prospects of our world, our future forever… but we will wait for the light together. #BeSafeBeWell 🙏🏼

DAY 8: 15 March 2020

Meeting the boys from Cambridge, discussing important things like community engagement and consultation.

They are totally on board with my ideas around Police Led Diversion.


Alpacas know their evidence based youth justice responses. 😊

DAY 9: 16 March 2020
Probably one of my favorite meetings yet. I met the incredible Judge Fitzgerland in Auckland, and was buzzing from his passion and commitment to keeping youth out of the justice system and using proven early interventions to stop them entering and remaining in and out of police stations and the Courts.


Judge Fitzgerald, Youth Court Judge Auckland regarding reducing reoffending and increasing community safety, advised:

“If you want to make things worse, continue to charge every kid.”

The incredible Judge taught me about how he had seen a vast majority youth crime cases, up to 90%, be resolved WITHOUT Police charge and through diversion.

The rest of day 9 took me to meet with the Springboard Trust (on the recommendation of Judge Fitzgerald) in Warkworth, an hour outside Auckland, where I met with local Youth Aid Police Officers and youth workers at the NGO Springboard where astonishingly they state more than 90%+ of all youth are dealt with for offending, without charge where the vast majority do not reoffend. This is community policing and local partnerships working together, at it’s very best.

DAY 10: 17 March 2020
I was extremely lucky to meet with Judge Moala and getting her permission to watch Mangere Pacifica Youth Court.

It was fantastic to watch Her Honour in action, in such a different and unique Court setting, showing such clear and personable communication techniques with the young person. All in the room: the Pacifica elders, all support workers and Youth Aid Police during the hearings all used a problem solving approach to assist the young person to achieve realistic goals and empower them to be their best. It seemed to work, from all of the progress reports.

Her Honour stated that:

“Only rehabilitation works. Jail does not work”. Diversion and Alternative Action approaches are the key”.

Watching NZ’s Youth Court System and New Zealand Police Youth Aid Unit at work taught me so much about what we can do to stop kids, and keep kids out of the youth justice system; starting with how we can make Court more open, accessible and appropriate for young people to assist them to understand the already complicated Court processes.

 After attending Court, I spend the afternoon with the incredible Sally and Alayne from Talking Trouble! These women are incredible.


‪They taught me the crucial need for all of us working in the youth justice MUST use language that the young person ACTUALLY understands: this will significantly increase their ability to successfully complete their diversion at alternative action (pre charge stage) and during the Court processes.

DAY 11: 18 March 2020
Before I flew home, I had one final informative and fascinating meeting with Zane and Emily from OrangaTamariki (Ministry for Children).

They stated that:

“Crossover Courts [where both child protection and youth justice matters are heard together] enable Judges to have an understanding of where the child comes from, before they pull the appropriate lever: which is more likely with a care and protection lens rather than stigmatising the child with criminal charges and proceedings.”

Sadly, later in day due to COVID-19  and global travel restrictions my travels were cut short  (Day 11 of Day 56).


I later landed in Melbourne and am now in 14 day self isolation at home with my chihuahuas- hopefully I can recommence when things settle down. Be safe and be well.

To be continued!


Laura Chipp




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