The needs of the target group

By comparing the target group to young offenders already in the juvenile justice system, estimates can be made about the types of needs people in this target group are likely to have. The estimated prevalence of mental health issues is shown in Figure 6, below. Substance use disorders (estimated to be present in about 40% of the target group) and conduct disorders (39% of the target group) are likely to be the most common.

Figure 6: Estimated prevalence of mental health issues in target group

Estimated prevalence of mental health issues in target group  

There are also likely to be issues with anger and violence (23% of target group), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (26% of target group), which could raise the barrier to work or education for these young people. The young people in the target group are disproportionately likely to be experiencing high psychological distress (21%) and major depression (9%), and be contemplating or have attempted suicide (9% of target group).

One of the most effective ways to reduce young people's current and future risk of offending is to improve their educational outcomes. The target group face a number of barriers to effective integration in the traditional education system. Figure 7 shows the estimated number of people in the target group who are likely to achieve the lowest range of scores on tests of academic ability ]. The tests have been calibrated such that 97% of the general population achieve scores higher than this range.

Figure 7: Estimated prevalence of very low educational ability in target group

Estimated prevalence of very low educational ability in target group  

The biggest issue with educational ability is numeracy. Almost half (49%) of the target group fall in the bottom 3% of numerical ability for their age. However, there are also large numbers of the target group that have very low scores for spelling or word reading (17% of the target group), and a larger group that have very low composite scores (23%), meaning each dimension of their educational skills are likely to be weak.

Low scores may indicate lack of desire to participate fully in testing, rather than low ability. However, this still indicates a barrier to traditional schooling that will need to be overcome if the people in the target group are to improve their educational outcomes.

There are other issues that will need to either be dealt with in treatment programs, or kept in mind when case managing the target group. Most of the target group are likely to have experienced some form of emotional, physical or sexual abuse or neglect. Up to a quarter may have experienced severe abuse or neglect. A significant proportion of the target sample is likely to live in out-of-home care. In addition, many will have a disrupted family life due to factors such as having a parent who is deceased or in prison.

An important aspect when analysing the needs of the target group is the extent that disorders occur simultaneously in the same people. Juvenile Justice NSW examined data on young people in their care relating to 12 types of mental health, intelligence and family needs. They estimated what proportion of the target group is likely to have multiple needs.

The data used in the analysis were from the 2009 NSW Young People in Custody Health Survey. The 12 factors considered as "needs" were:

  • Substance Use Disorder
  • Substance Abuse Disorder
  • Alcohol Use Disorder
  • Alcohol Abuse Disorder
  • Conduct Disorder
  • Oppositional Defiant Disorder
  • High/Very high on Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10)
  • Verbal Comprehension Index from the WISC/WAIS
  • Ever placed in care before age 16
  • Experience moderate/severe abuse or neglect (of any form)
  • Parent (one or both) deceased
  • Parent (one or both) currently in prison

The degree of multiple needs are summarised in Figure 8. Only 17% of the sample did not have any needs in the areas examined. Roughly a quarter of the sample had 1-2 needs, another quarter had 3-4 needs, and a third quarter had 5-8 needs. About 4% of the sample had more than eight needs.

Figure 8: Estimated prevalence of multiple needs in target group

Estimated prevalence of multiple needs in target group  

The degree to which the target group have multiple or interrelated needs is extremely important for the Youth on Track structure. For example, offenders with substance use disorders and other non-substance mental disorders are harder to treat and more likely to re-offend than offenders with only substance use disorders or offenders with only non-substance use disorders.

According to the Juvenile Justice data, people with substance or alcohol dependance or abuse disorders are significantly more likely to also have:

  • A conduct disorder
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Been placed in care before age 16
  • High or very high levels or psychological distress
  • Severe ratings of childhood trauma