Youth justice residences – best international practice evidence reviews

Published: April 21, 2023 · Updated: June 8, 2023

As part of policy work looking at developing a new model of care for youth justice residences, the team requested international literature evidence briefs.


These evidence briefs look at:

  • proven or promising international youth justice residence models, frameworks, and tools
  • physical restraint and de-escalation best practice.

The full evidence briefs are accompanied by smaller summary reports.

Oranga Tamariki runs 5 youth justice residences, able to accommodate up to 155 young people. Residences are usually for those aged between 14 and 17 who are on remand or sentenced and admitted to a residence.

Our youth justice residences aim to provide a safe, secure, and supportive environment where young people can get their lives back on track and improve their prospects for the future.

The model of physical restraint currently in use in New Zealand’s youth justice residences is Safe Tactical Approach and Response (STAR). This bespoke model was designed and developed in consultation with the New Zealand Police and draws on some elements of their approach to physical restraint. However, there have been some concerns and the evidence brief presents information on international models and policies and how these approaches interface with other elements of the system.

Key findings

The evidence brief reviewed youth justice residence literature and case studies across a range of Anglo-American sources, including Scotland, Australia, Norway and the US.

Youth justice residences differ depending on the country. However, it was important that the purpose of youth detention was clear, and was used to shape service design and performance monitoring. The following areas were identified as being important for young people:

  • detention used as a last resort
  • in smaller units, close to home
  • with competent staff who were able to cultivate strong relationships with young people
  • where education and training was valued
  • and whānau remained engaged.

The evidence brief identified some international system models that have promising aspects, including:

  • The Missouri Model of Juvenile Rehabilitation – a move from large correctional facilities to smaller, therapeutic environments.
  • Close to Home – this is a New York City programme based on Missouri with the addition of some higher-level security features.
  • Washington State Juvenile Rehabilitation Integrated Treatment Model – a clinical approach incorporating elements of the Risk-Need-Responsivity framework.
  • Multifunctional Treatment in Residential and Community Settings – a Scandinavian programme combining residential care with support at home and working with families.
  • Secure Children’s Homes – this network in England and Wales accommodates vulnerable children in ‘home-like’ facilities with high staff ratios.

The review of international best practice approaches to physical restraint and de-escalation in youth justice residences determined that:

  • the area is under-researched and data is often incomplete
  • there are usually negative consequences when restraint is used
  • young people appreciated that sometimes restraint was used (and was necessary) to keep them safe
  • getting the basics right, e.g. effective management and supervision, professional standards and a well-resourced workforce can help to improve child and staff safety
  • an organisation/system-wide commitment to a culture where violence and aggression are not tolerated is needed.