MORE juvenile liaison officers and better mental health and resource facilities are needed to tackle growing youth crime, according to a leading lobby group.
Responding to new figures on youth offending which show that 21,000 children were referred to the Garda’s youth diversion programme last year, Youth Work Ireland said yesterday that the number of juvenile liaison officers is "woefully low".
The organisation said there is still no mainstream capital funding for youth facilities.
Youth Works Ireland’s 22 members operate about 40 of the country’s Garda Diversion Projects.
The programme acts as a caution for children involved in crime and is used in place of court prosecution to give those involved a chance to improve their behaviour.
Youth Work Ireland said it is important to remember crime is still carried out by a tiny minority of young people.
"Statistics and figures on youth crime tell us very little, the use of the Juvenile Diversion scheme is obviously increasing but this can be seen as a good thing as the system is working and clearly there is more enforcement," said Youth Work Ireland’s Michael McLoughlin.
"However, with only about 110 juvenile liaison officers in a force of 14,000 there is clearly a need for rebalancing. Proper policing involves gardaí on the ground who have a relationships with communities and young people. Unfortunately relationships between the gardaí and young people are often not good at local level."
Garda figures show about 1,500 of their cases involved children aged between seven and 12, while the majority of those in trouble were from urban areas such as parts of Dublin, Cork and Limerick cities.
Gardaí have preferred using the youth diversion programme, with no Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) in place against any children.
Michael McLoughlin described ASBOs as "practically irrelevant" and said many people felt betrayed by politicians "who said this was a great solution" when the scheme was introduced.
"The lack of ASBOs has shown that young people are far better behaved than many gave them credit for. The success of the diversionary approach is clear from the figures and this should obviously be central to any approach to young people and offending," said Mr McLoughlin.
Youth Work Ireland was one of the groups working with children who opposed the introduction of ASBOs.
Meanwhile, alcohol is reported to have been a factor in 20% of crimes committed by children.