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Policy Research Programme - Research specification for Liaison and Diversion services for children and young people


Published: 09 July 2021

Version: 1.0 - July 2021

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  1. The NIHR Policy Research Programme (PRP) invites applications to conduct research to understand how different agencies work together to refer children and young people (CYP) to liaison and diversion (L&D) services and share information about vulnerable CYP.

  2. Up to £400,000 in total is available for a single project judged to be of sufficiently high scientific quality and relevance.

  3. This research is needed to understand best practice of L&D for CYP to increase referrals of CYP to L&D services and improve information sharing between L&D services and other statutory and voluntary agencies, such as youth justice agencies. This will enable L&D services to better identify vulnerability and unmet needs amongst CYP in order to refer them to appropriate health services and inform diversionary, charging and sentencing decisions. 


  1. Children and young people who come into contact with the youth justice system often have complex needs including mental health problems and high-risk behaviours. The Ministry of Justice state that, “In 2018/19, 12,685 children and young people were seen by L&D services. Of these 5,616 children and young people were identified as having a mental health issue and 951 referrals for mental health support for children and young people were made.”[1] L&D services are therefore critical in identifying and supporting CYP with complex needs.

  2. L&D services are commissioned by NHS England and NHS Improvement and are designed to support CYP who come into contact with the criminal and youth justice systems who may have vulnerabilities or complex needs, which are often: multiple (that is, not just in one domain, such as mental and physical health); persistent (that is, long term rather than transient, including for example learning disability, autism or both); severe (that is, not responding to standard interventions); and framed by family and social contexts (that is, early family disruption, loss, inequality, prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences)

  3. L&D services support people through the early stages of criminal system pathways, refer them for appropriate health or social care services or enable them to be diverted away from the criminal justice system into a more appropriate setting. Early intervention diversionary services like L&D aim to reduce reoffending rates for CYP and divert them away from a life of crime and associated poor health outcomes.

  4. The roll-out of NHS England commissioned L&D services achieved 100% coverage across England in March 2020.

  5. The main activities of L&D, commissioned to a national standard service specification are: identification, screening, assessment and referral to other services.

  6. L&D services for CYP adapt to align with (usually several) Youth Offending Teams (YOT) services operating locally agreed processes, which may not always align with national L&D services.

Research needed

  1. Previous research suggests that L&D services are effective in reducing reoffending.[1] Yet, there are fewer referrals of CYP to L&D services compared to adults.[2] Although there has been a recent impact evaluation of L&D services, this excluded the perspectives of CYP under the age of 18.[3]

  2. To address this gap, research is needed to understand why there are low referrals into L&D for CYP and how information is shared between different agencies, such as L&D services, police, Youth Offending Teams and other relevant education or health and social care agencies.

  3. We would welcome a process evaluation of the CYP pathway for L&D services across England, including how agencies share information, and how CYP are referred into services.

  4. It is important that the research includes the lived experiences of CYP from a range of backgrounds and also considers ethnic disparities, disadvantages and health inequalities.

  5. The research should aim to include L&D services in each of the seven NHSE/I regions.

  6. Indicative research questions could include:
  • To what extent do L&D services align their processes with police and Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) practice to develop agreed pathways for CYP?
  • What are best practice principles to maximise efficiency and outreach of L&D services for CYP?
  • How do police identify vulnerability amongst CYP, engage with L&D and share this information with YOT colleagues?
  • How do YOTs engage with L&D and use information from L&D to inform case management and sentencing decisions?
  1. All research should actively involve CYP, their families and carers, and the public, and where feasible should be co-produced, from the inception of the application through to dissemination, as standard, working alongside relevant communities to understand people’s experiences and to highlight the narratives and views of those with lived experience. Research should also consider how it is addressing health inequalities.

  2. This research has a direct policy interest from the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), NHSE/I and Youth Justice Board, and aims to inform policy to increase referrals of CYP to L&D services and improve information sharing between L&D and youth justice agencies. This will enable L&D services to identify vulnerability and unmet needs amongst CYP in order to refer them to appropriate health or social care, statutory and voluntary services and inform diversionary, charging and sentencing decisions. 

Areas out of scope for this programme of work  

  • This research should be focused on the CYP pathway for L&D services.

Technical requirements

  • Applicants are asked to consider the timing and nature of deliverables in their proposals. Policymakers will need research evidence to meet key policy decisions and timescales, so resource needs to be flexible to meet these needs.

Budget and duration

  • A budget of £400,000 is available for this research. The duration of the project should be as short as is consistent with delivering a high quality study.
  • In assessing proposals, the Department will be seeking value for money as well as scientific excellence and the potential policy impact which is key.
  • Costings can include up to 100% full economic costing (FEC) but should exclude output VAT. Applicants are advised that value for money is one of the key criteria that peer reviewers and commissioning panel members will assess applications against.
  • In order to maximise the benefit from the findings, the research will need to commence as soon as possible following selection of the successful bid and placing of a contract. Capability to start promptly will be an advantage and for this commissioning round, applicants should demonstrate that projects can start by October 2021.


Deadline for stage 1 applications 7 September 2021, 1 PM
Notification of outcome of stage 1 22 October 2021
Project start November 2021

Governance and research requirements

  • Applicants will need to describe how proposed studies will inform policy development within health and justice and the criminal justice system.
  • Research contractors will be expected to work with nominated officials in DHSC, its partners and the NIHR. Key documents including, for example, research protocols, research instruments, reports and publications must be provided to DHSC in draft form allowing sufficient time for review.


  1. UK Parliament. Children and Young People in Custody (Part 1): Entry into the youth justice system. November 2020.
  2. Kane E, Evans E, Mitsch J, Jilani T (2020) Are Liaison and Diversion interventions in policing delivering the planned impact: A longitudinal evaluation in two constabularies? Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health 30(5):256-267.
  3. Disley E, Taylor C, Kruitho K et al. (2016) Evaluation of offender liaison and diversion trial schemes. RAND, July 2016.