Supporting children who offend to be crime-free : strengths, challenges and aspirations : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Social Work at Massey University, Manawatū, New Zealand

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This research explored how social workers support children who offend to be crime-free. The study focussed on the experiences of social workers who work with children who offend and sought to understand their strengths, challenges, and aspirations as they supported children who offend and their family and/or whānau. The qualitative exploratory study involved semi-structured interviews with social workers to gather rich and descriptive data. The study results highlighted the complexity of working with children who offend due to the offending behaviour often being related to other difficulties in the child’s life. The child’s engagement with the justice system added to this complexity requiring a balance of holding the child accountable for their offending, ensuring the child's safety and those around them, and providing support within a resource-constrained environment. The study found that to increase positive outcomes for children who offend, social workers needed to be skilled in building and maintaining relationships with the child and their family and/or whānau, gathering relevant information to enable a holistic understanding of the child’s home environment and to encourage positive connections. These connections, either within the home environment, community or with other professionals, provide a basis upon which change can be supported. Ecological systems theory can be useful in helping the child and their family and/or whānau to build on skills and strengths to create change within the home environment. Building those skills often requires a variety of supports to address the different domains within the child’s life and that of their family and/or whānau. Often these supports are limited or only become available as part of an intervention once the child’s offending behaviour is serious enough to require Oranga Tamariki involvement. The study highlighted the importance of prevention, assisting children who offend and their family and/or whānau early rather than intervening only once the offending is more serious. This could reduce the need for youth justice involvement and possibly prevent children from engaging in future offending behaviour.