Restorative Justice Week 2016 - A Volunteer’s experience of working with the Youth Justice Agency in Londonderry

Date published: 24 November 2016

Restorative practice is at the core of all that the Youth Justice Agency delivers for young people who offend, for their victims, and indeed for the communities within which they reside.

Kevin Thompson
Kevin Thompson receives his Youth Justice Agency “Special Commendation” certificate from Justice Minister Claire Sugden

Many of these restorative and reparative activities are delivered through the use of volunteers and today, as part of Restorative Justice Week 2016, we have an opportunity to hear of the experiences of one such volunteer, Kevin Thompson, who works with the Youth Justice Agency’s Western Area Team, based in Londonderry.

Kevin was awarded a special commendation for his outstanding contribution to volunteering at the Youth Justice Agency’s annual volunteer awards 2016, and was presented with his certificate by Justice Minister Claire Sugden at an evening reception held in June. The Justice Minister acknowledged the valuable role that volunteers like Kevin play in helping divert young people from crime and said:

“Volunteers are positive role models for young people, assisting them in making good choices about their lives and diverting them from crime. They can really help young people develop the skills and maturity they need as they move towards adulthood”.

Kevin’s Story

Kevin Thompson is one of those volunteers who initially learned about the scheme from his wife who had previously carried out a similar role for the Youth Justice Agency. Living in the Shantallow area of Derry, Kevin always enjoyed working with young people but felt he wanted to do more in relation to diverting children away from the behaviours which were leading to them coming into conflict with the law.

‘Although I had little knowledge of the Agency, I did see the useful work they were carrying out in my area and I thought I could use my own life experiences to give kids a chance at staying out of trouble and at the same time learn new stuff myself, as I am presently studying Youth Work at university.’

‘I had little schooling myself and have Dyslexia but I felt that my own achievements may encourage local kids to try to better themselves, break the routine and social shackles they find themselves bound up in when living in impoverished communities.’

After undergoing initial training with the Youth Justice Agency, Kevin found himself working with kids whose lives seemed to be spiralling out of control, with no positive futures to aim towards.

‘Initially it was difficult to engage the young people in conversation – they would just grunt replies but slowly I gained their trust and through diversionary activities, they began to open up to me and speak about their hopes and fears, scared kids hiding behind an aggressive mask. I let them do the talking if they wanted, not pushing or forcing them but being available as someone they could trust and rely on. You had to talk to the kids in their own language, use slang and the language of the streets, use any means to get the positive messages through to them and assure them that they could have a bright future.’

One young person in particular highlights the success which volunteers can bring to the process. Kevin says:-

‘I had one young man who wouldn’t even go into a restaurant, he had no self-esteem and felt that his anti-social behaviours had alienated him from society. I worked with him for nearly two years, developing his confidence and signposting him to the agencies he needed to work with to get his life back on track. That young man is now in Australia, doing great and is both working and continuing to undertake training courses, a real success story. Last year he spoke at the Ross McCartney Volunteer awards, which was really emotional for me as I saw how far he had come’.

Kevin feels that working as a volunteer with the Youth Justice Agency has helped him grow in confidence, learn new skills and gave him the desire to undertake his Youth Work Studies.

‘My volunteering showed me what direction I wanted to take my own career and the training I received, especially in lone working, restorative justice and working with families will stand me in good stead, no matter which path I finally take. It is also really rewarding work, you don’t make an impact in every young person’s life but you do help some, which makes it all worthwhile.’

In November 2015 Kevin received a ‘Volunteer Recognition Award’ at a celebration event organised by Derry City and Strabane District Council to acknowledge the value of volunteers in that area. More recently, he was presented with a special recognition award by Justice Minister Claire Sugden for his outstanding contribution to volunteering with the Youth Justice Agency’s Foyle area team.

Notes to editors: 

  • Restorative Justice Week 2016 runs from 21-25 November 2016
  • Kevin Thompson received a special commendation for his outstanding contribution to volunteering at the Youth Justice Agency’s annual volunteer awards evening reception held in Lisburn on 29 June 2016
  • Kevin was presented with his award by Justice Minister Claire Sugden
  • Media enquiries should be directed to George Lowry on 028 9031 6421 or 07717 732691. Alternatively email

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