‘I would like to thank all youth justice volunteers that are currently or have previously volunteered for their commitment and tireless energy. Every individual contribution makes a significant difference to the lives of children and their families as well as delivering substantial benefits to the community and victims.’ (Collin Allars, Chief Executive YJB)


We have created a short description of the most common volunteer opportunities across England and Wales. However, you will need to contact your local youth offending team (YOT) or establishment to find out the individual volunteer opportunities that you may like to be involved in.

You must be over 18 to volunteer for most of the opportunities within the youth justice system. You can still apply if you have a criminal history (although this can depend on the offence).



Volunteering overview

‘volunteering provides an opportunity to try and put something back’ (RG, volunteer)

Volunteering provides you with the opportunity to do something useful for your local community.  You won’t get paid (apart from pre-agreed expenses) but you will feel the satisfaction of time and effort well spent. You will also meet new people, learn new skills and gain useful experience.  Crucially, it enables you to really make a difference in the lives of children, their families or carers and victims.

What do I need?
You don’t necessarily need to give up a great deal of your time and there are usually no age limits (although for most volunteering opportunities in YOTs and establishments you will need to be over 18 years of age). However, the following skills and qualities will be useful:

  • good communication skills
  • good team-working skills
  • reliability
  • flexibility
  • sensitivity
  • discretion
  • commitment.



What opportunities are there in youth justice?
Effective youth justice services require the involvement of their local community, so there are various volunteering opportunities within the youth justice system, such as volunteering as a:

  • mentor
  • youth offender panel member
  • appropriate adult
  • magistrate
  • Independent Monitoring Board member
  • part of an employer-supported volunteering scheme
  • young volunteer.



Who should I contact if I am interested?

To volunteer for the majority of roles listed here, you should get in touch with your local YOT. Please note that different YOTs may have local partnerships so they would be best suited to inform you of how to apply and if you need to apply to a specific organisation, whom they work with. Other ways of applying for volunteer opportunities would be directly through the organisation that offers the opportunity.



What is the process?

You may need to complete an application form, attend an interview and complete all required training before you will be able to start your volunteering role. The time scales will be in relation to yours and the YOTs availability as well as pre-set training dates, which means that there may be times when you have to wait a little while before you are able to start.



What should I expect when I volunteer

The training I received was very well considered, well organised, professionally executed and intelligently managed (Ray, volunteer)


When you volunteer with a YOT you should probably expect the following:

  • to receive training
  • to complete a criminal records check – you will need to disclose any previous convictions or investigations by the police (Disclosure and Barring Service)
  • to receive reasonable expenses to get to and from your work
  • to receive information and training about health and safety.




‘every child is the light of the future’ (Arinda, volunteer)


Mentoring is about supporting children with a variety of personal aspects of their lives – this may include engaging in education, training and employment or more simply being a friendly face in difficult times for that child. A mentor should support children to achieve their potential and also be a positive adult role model.

Being a mentor requires you to take an interest in the child with whom you work and encourage them to keep working at the areas which have been identified as key to support desistence.

Mentoring provides a one-to-one personal relationship that can act as a protective factor and provide them with opportunities for success. It can also support children away from some of their negative experiences that increase the risk of children coming into contact with the youth justice.

The child-centred approach to mentoring allows the child to consider what they need in order to success in their lives.
Mentoring generally takes place when you are available and when it is suitable for the young person, taking into account that mentoring is person specific and centred, so commitment may be weekly or more intense.


What should I do next?
If you are interested in being a mentor with a child who is in the criminal justice system, contact your local YOT.



Youth Offender Panels

‘my some 20 years working of Referral Order Panels have been very satisfying. To feel that one might have had some influence on a young person’s life and helped them move forward in a positive way, is both humbling and rewarding.’ (Maya, volunteer)

Volunteers are needed to join ‘youth offender panels’ across the country in the role of volunteer Community Panel Members. If you become a panel member you will be joining the thousands of volunteers who are already seeing their efforts pay off to tackle crime in their area.



What are Youth offender panels?

‘I wanted to get involved with panels because in my own community there were people that actively reached out to me as a young person and this showed me how valuable I was and I wanted to share this with others’ (CT, volunteer)

Youth offender panels are led by volunteer Community Panel Member and it is a meeting where children that have offended and received a Referral Order, their parents/carers, those harmed (victims) and members of the community have the opportunity to come together to consider what support the child may need to assist in his/her desistence journey and to give the victim a voice.

A youth offender panel consists of two trained volunteers from the local community (volunteer Community Panel Members (CPM)), alongside a member of the YOT. The panel will meet with the child and their parents/carers, to talk about what happened and start considering the impact on the victims or community. At the initial meeting, a tailor made individual contract is co-created with the child and it aims to repair the harm and increase positive factors in the child’s life (which will support their desistence journey).

The contract is supervised by the YOT but reviewed (generally on a three-monthly basis) by the CPM at review panel meetings. In cases where the child fails to comply, the CPM must evaluate and consider, with the YOT returning the child back to Court, where an extension to their Referral Order or a different sentence may be given.

Volunteers need to be 18 years old or over and may spend about three hours a fortnight working on the panel. Panel meetings generally take place after school/work although where appropriate they can also take place during day time.

If you decide to become a panel member, you’ll receive specific training on, for instance, how panels work and your role in the process; restorative justice and communication.

What is a Referral Order?
A Referral Order is a court order which can only be given to child that are aged (or committed the offence) 10-17 years. A Referral Order can only be considered if the child pleads guilty to all or at least one of the offences for which they are presented to the court. The majority of children eligible to be considered for a Referral Order at court have pleaded guilty to a first court conviction. However, the introduction of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012, has increased the conditions under which a Referral Order may be suitable for children.

A Referral Order can be between three to 12 months, depending on the seriousness of the crime and this is decided by the court and is non-negotiable.

The Referral Order process is one which is underpinned by Restorative Justice, highlighted by the fact that children must plead guilty to the offence, as well as by the process itself where the victim is placed at the centre of the process itself. To this end, victim/s are supported to engage in the Referral Order process or in restorative meetings outside of the Referral Orders. This will be decided by the victim/s themselves.



Appropriate adults

‘We all want someone to show up for us in our times of need and I am always especially glad to be able to do that for the young people that I support, when no one else can’ (Maiya, volunteer)

Appropriate Adults safeguard the interests of children and young people who are detained or interviewed by police as a suspect.
Generally, a parent, carer or other family member will be the Appropriate Adult. Where that is not possible, YOTs provide a trained Appropriate Adult. An important part of the role is assisting with communication, making sure the child understands their rights and can participate effectively in the whole process.

An Appropriate Adult is different to a solicitor and does not give legal advice.
You do not need any prior experience or qualifications to volunteer as an Appropriate Adult. The training you would receive before being able to work as an appropriate adult should cover the following:

  • the role of the Appropriate Adult and YOTs
  • issues facing children, child protection and safeguarding
  • children’s rights as a suspect
  • mental health and learning disability issues
  • working with vulnerable people to support communication
  • dealing with challenging behaviour, boundaries and common dilemmas
  • criminal justice disposals and their implications
  • police processes and the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984
  • understanding instructions, custody records and paperwork
  • who’s who at the police station
  • a visit to a custody suite.

For further information about volunteering as an appropriate adult and a map of local schemes, visit the National Appropriate Adult Network (NAAN) website. Alternatively, you can contact your local YOT.

‘If you ever felt that life or circumstances have been unfair and wished you had someone in your corner to support you then I would recommend becoming an AA so that you can be that person for someone else’ (Sofia, volunteer)



Magistrates come from a wide range of backgrounds and occupations. You don’t need a formal qualification or knowledge of the law. The role of the magistrate is to hear cases in a formal setting, namely in a court. Due to the complex nature of youth justice, magistrates are only able to sit in the youth court once they have practical experience at the adult magistrate court before being able to access further training to become a magistrate in a youth court.

Magistrates usually sit as a panel of three with one acting as the chair with responsibility for addressing the court. A legal adviser supports the magistrates and ensures that all the right procedures are being adhered to.

Magistrates can be appointed from the age of 18 and retire at 70.

Magistrates must sit for a minimum of 26 half days each year, which is the equivalent of just over one day per month. Your employer is legally obliged to give you reasonable time off to complete magistrates’ duties. Although employers don’t have to pay employees on magistrate duty, many do so in recognition of the important contribution magistrates make.

for more infomation on becoming a magistrate click here.


When a child has been formally charged by the police they will generally have to attend a Youth Court. If the case, for whatever reason cannot be dealt with on the day, the court may bail the child to attend another day or could remand into custody.

When a child pleads ‘not guilty’ a date is set by the court for a trial date and the magistrate will then need to the decide an appropriate and fair sentence, based on the evidence provided.

When a child pleads ‘guilty’ the court will need to hear the evidence provided and consider a variety of circumstances and elements and they decide an appropriate and fair sentence, based on the evidence provided.

In cases where the offence/s committed are deemed very serious the magistrate will need to request that the child is seen at Crown Court.



Independent Monitoring Board member
Independent Monitoring Board (IMB) are made up of volunteers who visit secure establishments and meet with the children to help monitor aspects of their life in custody, such as living conditions. They monitor to ensure that standards are maintained, identify concerns and issues, and discuss these at board meetings and recommend actions.

It makes no difference where you come from or what you do, as long you are over 18 years old and are willing to make a difference.
Being an IMB member is likely to take up an average of two to three days per month of your time, although this can vary slightly depending on your local board and the size and nature of the establishment it monitors.

Board members also play an important role in dealing with problems inside the establishment. If a prisoner or detainee has an issue that he or she has been unable to resolve through the usual internal channels, he or she can put in a confidential request to see a member of the IMB. Problems might include concerns over lost property, visits from family or friends, special religious or cultural requirements, or even serious allegations such as bullying.

For an application pack and further information please visit the Independent Monitoring Board website.


Employer-supported volunteering
Employers can get involved either by encouraging and helping their staff to volunteer or by offering the services of their organisation. For example, in youth justice, businesses could provide opportunities for reparation work by young people who have offended.

Programmes, known as employer-supported volunteering, are being set up to help businesses and public sector organisations to support volunteer work by their employees, during work hours or in their own time.

Employer-supported volunteering is a three-way partnership between the employer, employee and the receiver of these volunteers (e.g. a youth offending team).  Employers can benefit by contributing to their local communities, developing the skills and morale of their workforce and by improving their image.

Employees get the satisfaction of giving something back to society, develop new skills and enhance their existing ones, while having fun away from the daily work routine.

You may find further infomation of interest at the Employer Supported Volunteering at Action for Children and The National Council for Voluntary Organisations websites.


Young volunteers
Children and young people interested in volunteering, including those under 18, should contact individual volunteer agencies directly, rather than local YOTs. As recommended by the Russell Commission (2005) Vinspired offers a range of opportunities for children and young people aged 14-25 in England to make a difference in their local community through volunteering.



Working with Victims

'I have really recognised how the restorative justice philosophy taps into real deep universal human needs, is applicable to issues in relationships other than just a criminal context. The training has helped me to solve issues with my friends and family, and to better understand how well-considered communication can significantly help to avoid conflict and hurt feelings, and retain people’s sense of respect for both themselves and others. (Ray, volunteer)

You can also volunteer by supporting victims of crime. This may involve visiting people in their homes and helping them to talk through their feelings about the crime and providing information on practical and personal issues. You could also support people who have to attend court or volunteer to give emotional support and information to victims of crime over the phone.

You may find further information of interest on the following websites: Victim Support, Restorative Justice Council and Volunteering Wales for more information on volunteering with victims.  You should also contact directly your local YOT as they may have specific volunteer opportunities.


Other volunteering opportunities

'YOS training includes several bite sized elements that together complete a bigger picture of the role. For example safeguarding certificate helps to understand the referrals as a client group within a broader context; then roleplaying gives us a sense of what to expect.’ (Jason, volunteer)

There are a variety of other roles that may be available, and you may want to find out what is available in your local community if you want to make a difference in the lives of children, families and victims of crime. You may find Do it or Volunteer Placements of interest, as well as Prison Reform Trust and Prisoner Education Trust.

Many YOTs have tailor made and specific volunteer opportunities, this could include supporting staff to run intervention groups, reparation groups or maybe supporting children on a 1:1 basis. You will need to contact your local YOT in order to find out what is available.