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Graham, Kerry --- "Practice Pointers: Piloting a Youth Drug Court in NSW" [2000] AltLawJl 67; (2000) 25(4) Alternative Law Journal 185

Practice pointers: Piloting Youth Drug Court

A best practice guide for referral to the new NSW Youth Drug Court.

Kerry Graham[*]

As a result of recommendations put forward by the New South Wales Drug Summit a new Children’s Court — the Youth Drug Court Program Pilot — began operating in Western Sydney on 31 July 2000. The YDC combines intensive judicial supervision and case management of young offenders who are charged with criminal offences that result from alcohol or drug use.

Initially, the YDC operates only two days a week — Mondays at Cobham and Thursdays at Campbelltown. As more young people are referred into the YDC Program, sitting days will increase to two days a week at each location. It is expected that the YDC will expand to full capacity within five months, assisting 120 young people a year.

Being a pilot program, places are limited. It is anticipated that eight young people a week will be referred from mainstream Children’s Courts to the YDC for initial assessment. From there only four young people will go on for further in-depth assessment, with only 2–3 of those actually being accepted into the YDC Program each week.

With these limitations it will be critical to the success of the pilot that the most appropriate young people are referred. In making submissions for referral, practitioners will need to address the Children’s Court on the legal criteria as well as a young persons’ potential suitability for the YDC Program.

Legal eligibility

For a referral to be made from the Children’s Court to the YDC, a young person must satisfy the following legal criteria:

• be charged with an offence that the Children’s Court is able to deal with (that is, not a serious indictable offence crime, sex offence or traffic offence);

• show that they have a drug or alcohol problem;

• plead guilty (or intend to do so);

• not be eligible for a caution or conference under the Young Offenders Act;

• face the possibility of serving a control order;

• agree to participate in the YDC Program;

• be aged between 14 and 18 years (though it is possible for younger people to participate if appropriate);

• live in the areas that use Campbelltown, Lidcombe and Cobham Children’s Courts; or have connections to those areas through family, work or other strong reasons.


In determining a young person’s suitability for the YDC Program assessors will be looking at the following factors:

• willingness to participate in the YDC Program

• substance use/abuse — severity of dependence

• physical health

• mental health (NB: a serious mental or intellectual disability may result in a young person being assessed as unsuitable for the YDC Program)

• family relationships

• peer relationships

• educational status

• vocational status

• social skills

• leisure/recreation

• aggressive behaviour/delinquency

• accommodation

• readiness to change.

As such, a submission to the Children’s Court for a referral to the YDC Program will be strengthened if it includes information on:

• level of drug or alcohol use;

• risk factors operating in the young person’s life;

• the young person’s willingness to participate; and

• readiness to change and/or anticipated ability to comply.

Court-based Intake Officers from the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) will be fully briefed on the criteria for referral and will be a valuable resource, particularly in relation to a young person’s suitability for the YDC Program.

The making of referrals

If your client is instructing you to make a submission for referral to the YDC Program and the young person satisfies the legal eligibility criteria, make contact with the Registrar of the YDC to ascertain whether any vacancies exist. Your Children’s Court registry will assist with this.

Submissions for referral to the YDC Program can be made on behalf of eligible young people who first appear at a Children’s Court on or after 31 July 2000.

Informed consent

In taking instructions from hopeful YDC participants, practitioners need to ensure young people are aware of their obligations if accepted. A rough guide to the YDC Program is given in the Table with specific information relating to young people.

• The young person must satisfy legal criteria and be considered suitable by the Children’s Court Magistrate.
• If referred, the matter will be adjourned for one week for initial assessment.
• If not referred, the matter will remain at Children’s Court.

• The young person will undergo an initial assessment conducted by DJJ.
• This assessment will take place in custody or in the community.
at YDC
• The YDC Magistrate will make a decision on eligibility based on the legal criteria and the outcome of initial assessment.
• If eligible, the matter will be adjourned for two weeks and referred to Joint Assessment and Referral Team (JART) for further assessment.
• If ineligible, the matter will be referred back to the originating Children’s Court.
of Program
• The young person will undergo an in-depth, holistic assessment conducted by a team of assessors.
• This assessment will take place in custody, a residential facility (if granted bail but lacking appropriate accommodation) or in the community.
• The young person will be required to submit to testing for drug and alcohol use.
at YDC
• The YDC Magistrate will make a decision on eligibility based on the outcome of the JART assessment and the availability of places.
• If eligible, the young person will be accepted onto the YDC Program and made subject to a six month Griffith Remand with conditions to comply with their YDC Program Plan.
• If ineligible, the matter will be referred back to originating Children’s Court.

• The young person must comply with YDC Program Pan for six months and will be required to:
– report back to the YDC as directed
 (initially every two weeks)
– submit to testing for drugs or alcohol at any time
– keep all treatment, counselling, educational and other appointments.
– be of good behaviour
• The young person will receive help and guidance from
– A Program Manager
– A support worker
– JART and the Court Team.

Inability to
• A young person experiencing difficulties with their YDC Program Plan will be required to report back to court more regularly and submit to drug and alcohol testing more often.
• A young person who is unable to complete their YDC Program Plan will be terminated from the YDC Program and sentenced. The achievements of the young person while in the YDC Program will be taken into account.
Ability to
• A young person who completes their YDC Program Plan will graduate from the YDC Program and be more favourably sentenced.
• Graduates from the YDC Program will receive on-going support for six months after the sentence proceedings.

Further information

As the YDC Program is a pilot program it will continue to develop and evolve. Changes are expected to occur as the process is reviewed and amended. As such, Practice Directions are not yet available. However, information packages for practitioners and pamphlets for young people, parents, service providers and community agencies are available from the Legal Aid Commission of New South Wales by contacting Ms Kerry Graham on 02 9219 5152; email:

[*] Kerry Graham is a solicitor seconded from the Sydney Regional Aboriginal Corporation Legal Service to the Legal Aid Commission of New South Wales.


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