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Supporting children’s compliance on community supervision
Mairéad Seymour recommends strategies to support children's compliance on community supervision.

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The latest (28 April, 2023) Academic Insight report from His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Probation is authored by Mairéad Seymour from Technological University Dublin and focuses on compliance and strategies that pro-actively support and encourage substantive compliance by children and young people. The report highlights the importance of positive working relationships as crucial for promoting and encouraging compliance, requiring practitioners to utilise a range of skills, to have the time and persistence to build positive relationships, and to demonstrate genuine concern and interest.

Dr Seymour argues that meaningful strategies to encourage compliance must be sufficiently flexible to accommodate differing and changing circumstances, experiences, motivations, strengths and barriers. At the same time, she says that attention needs to be given to ensuring that approaches are sufficiently fair, equitable and consistent

Short- and long-term compliance

Dr Seymour starts by exploring the concept of compliance, discussing short-term/formal compliance and longer term/substantive compliance. Formal compliance refers to the supervisee’s adherence to the minimal technical requirements of the order such as attendance at appointments, while substantive compliance implies the supervisee’s meaningful participation in the supervision process.

She shares Tony Bottoms’ theoretical framework for compliance which puts forward four principal mechanisms which underpin decisions to comply illustrated in the infographic reproduced below.


The evidence base suggests that while deterrence in the form of enforcement may work for some young people, in some circumstances, for many the threat of a return to court for being non-compliant holds limited power and alternative approaches to promoting compliance are required. Recommended strategies include:

  • Early and regular communication – ensuring that children and young people are clear about the expectations on them from the beginning of the supervision process.
  • Establishing legitimacy – the development of positive working relationships between young people and their supervisors is at the centre of promoting and encouraging compliance. Key factors include: the development of rapport and a non-judgemental approach; persistence in building relationships & demonstrating concern and interest in the child as an individual.

Responding to non-compliance

Dr Seymour covers how best to respond to non-compliance and sets her discussion within the current context of a “risk averse culture”. She says that “non-compliance requires careful balance and nuanced discussion to ensure that the most vulnerable children and young people are not overly penalised on the basis of their circumstances, rather than specific concerns for public safety and protection”.


The Academic Insight concludes by saying that the weight of evidence suggests that a relational approach provides the best foundation from which to address barriers to short and longer-term compliance, to challenge non-compliance, and to build on children and young people’s strengths and capacities for the future.

Dr Seymour reiterates the need for clear and consistent communication to explain requirements from the beginning, and to highlight the consequences of non-compliance. She highlights the importance of engaging in dialogue, negotiating the boundaries of supervision and using role-play and pro-social modelling to involve children and young people actively in conversations about non-compliance and to reiterate what compliance means in practice.

She summarises the evidence:

“Professional discretion balanced with accountability enables decision-makers to embed fairness into their responses to non-compliance. A compliance-focussed approach to navigating community supervision may enhance the likelihood of meaningful engagement and offers potential to reduce children and young people’s risk of further criminalisation and stigmatisation.”

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