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

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.

Alanna Burns
Alanna Burns receives her Youth Justice Agency “Special Commendation for community integration” certificate from Justice Minister Claire Sugden

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.

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, Alanna Burns, who is from Dungannon but who works as a Volunteer with the Youth Justice Agency’s Western Area Team, based in Omagh.

Alanna was awarded a special commendation for community integration at the Youth Justice Agency’s annual volunteer awards 2016, and was presented with her certificate by Justice Minister Claire Sugden at an evening reception held in June. The Justice Minister acknowledged the valuable role that volunteers like Alanna 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”.

Alanna’s story

Alanna initially learned about the Youth Justice Agency while studying for a Criminology Degree at Ulster University Jordanstown, so when she read about the Agency looking for volunteers, Alana felt this was a perfect opportunity to expand her knowledge of the Youth Justice system.

‘I always loved working with children and coupled with my degree, the volunteer scheme was an ideal way of gaining invaluable experience while utilising my own skills and strengths. I knew the Youth Justice Agency worked with kids who had gotten into trouble with the law and I also bought into the restorative element which underpinned the Agency’s ethos.’

One of the criteria for recruiting volunteers is strong communication skills and Alanna feels that her ability to empathise and talk to young people helped her succeed as a volunteer.

‘I used a down to earth approach when talking to the young people and I didn’t judge them but tried to understand how they had gotten themselves into trouble and at times empathise with their hurt and difficulties, while at the same time keeping into perspective the fact that there were consequences to their actions and often innocent victims.

One young person that I had a lot of success with was so low on self-esteem and confidence that it took a long time to win her trust. She had got into a lot of trouble with the law, which left her staring at an uncertain future. After slowly forming a trusting relationship I encouraged her to focus on positive outcomes for her future, accompanied her to reparation placements and helped signpost her to the support bodies and agencies where she could access training and job opportunities.  The reparation placement in particular was very rewarding for all concerned, with the victim of her offending really happy that she had undertaken direct work with them.’

When reflecting on her time working as a volunteer with the Youth Justice Agency, Alanna feels that the experience and knowledge she picked up helped her secure her present job as a support worker for young people with Belfast Central Mission.

‘I am grateful for the training and support the Youth Justice Agency gave me and the opportunity to fine tune my skills working with young people, it was an invaluable experience which undoubtedly helped me get the post with the Belfast Mission. The Youth Justice Agency do a great job in steering young people away from crime and pointing them in the right direction to get their lives back on track. I am a great supporter of the Restorative Justice ethos which allows young people to see the harm they have done and the Agency also does a lot of good family work, while building and maintaining close ties with local communities.’

Notes to editors: 

  • Restorative Justice Week 2016 runs from 21-25 November 2016
  • Alanna Burns received a ‘special commendation for community integration’ at the Youth Justice Agency’s annual volunteer awards evening reception held in Lisburn on 29 June 2016
  • Alanna was presented with her 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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