Young or vulnerable people

Young or vulnerable people require additional support in custody due to their circumstances, age or needs.

Without prejudice to the event which has necessitated detention and the possible impact on others, the police recognise that a person's circumstances or a particular period in their life can be challenging as it also can for their family, friends or those with caring responsibilities.

Where appropriate, other agencies such as Social Services, Health and Educational services should be used for assistance along with any other support network or voluntary services that may be able to help.


  • Juveniles: A person under seventeen years of age.
  • Young person: A person between fourteen and seventeen years of age.
  • Child: A person under the age of fourteen years.
  • Vulnerable person: An individual who may have difficulty understanding, speaking or expressing themselves or not able to understand the significance of what may be said or asked of them. This may be due to a diagnosed condition or some other cognitive impairment such as learning difficulties. This is different to mental disorder or mental disability which is defined under the Mental Health Act 1983, but equally they will be treated as a vulnerable person whilst in custody.

Additional information

Care and welfare whilst in custody

  • As with any prisoner, due regard is made of their wellbeing combined with obtaining the additional support of an appropriate adult.
  • The police, appropriate adult and any requested solicitor will explain processes and what is taking place to help them understand.
  • The period of detention is progressed as swiftly as possible given the impact detention may have on their wellbeing.
  • Any concerns regarding medical issues disclosed or identified will be referred to a medical health professional.
  • They will be checked at least every thirty minutes and will not share or occupy a room with another detainee.  Depending on circumstances, they may be checked more frequently or even be monitored constantly for their own safety.
  • Where facilities and circumstances allow, activity in the custody unit will be conducted with due privacy and separated from others.
  • Female detainees will have contact with a female member of staff to address any personal issues for privacy and dignity.

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Support whilst in custody

The police need to contact a parent, guardian or carer for anyone in custody under 18 or an adult who is considered vulnerable. Additionally, there’s a need for them to be present at the station to assist with procedures and support the person - for example during interview, to consider any consent that may be required or where forms need to be signed.

This function is referred to as being an ‘appropriate adult’ and can include any of the following:

  • Parent
  • Family member
  • Guardian 
  • Carer
  • Social worker
  • Friend aged 18 or over
  • A representative from an approved volunteer service

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Appropriate adults

Some people in custody require additional support, such as a person under 18 or an adult who may be vulnerable due to conditions such as mental disorders or learning difficulties. Appropriate adults are called to the station as an important safeguard and support to assist the person - for example, to help them understand what is happening during the investigative stages such as interviews.

In addition to interviews, appropriate adults are required to countersign any formal documents such as bail, charges or consent forms.

The appropriate adult is not there to simply act as an observer. Their role is supportive - to help communication between the person, the police and others and to ensure the police act fairly respecting their rights.

They assist and advise but they do not provide legal advice. If the person in custody refuses to have legal advice, the appropriate adult has the right to request a solicitor be called.

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People with visual, auditory or language difficulties

Anyone who is visually impaired or unable to read will have assistance to understand, check and complete any written material as required.  This will be someone independent to the police and not involved in the investigation, such as a relative or appropriate adult.

If a detainee appears to be deaf or there is doubt about their ability to hear clearly or speak where effective communication cannot be established an interpreter will be contacted.

Likewise, where effective communication cannot be established due to language difficulties communication will be facilitated through an interpreter.

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Mental Health detention

The police can detain a person at the station for assessment under the Mental Health Act 1983 - this does not mean they are under arrest for an offence. Normally the police would seek to get the patient assessed in a hospital but sometimes the risk of harm to the person or others has to be considered, whether due to the illness or factors involving alcohol or controlled substances.

Whilst in custody the person will be seen by a police medical health professional but the assessment will involve a medical doctor and approved mental health professionals qualified to carry out the assessment, such as a psychiatrist.

The police seek to address such an assessment as soon as possible but delays may occur, for example if the person is heavily intoxicated. Additionally, the police may subsequently transfer the person from the police station to a more suitable location for an assessment to take place, such as a mental health department at the local hospital.

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Being interviewed without an appropriate adult present

A juvenile or otherwise vulnerable adult may be interviewed without an appropriate adult present when it’s urgent and necessary, for example to prevent physical injury to someone, harm to property or loss of evidence. This requires the authority of a senior officer and such an interview will only be as long as is necessary to obtain sufficient information to prevent the initial concerns.

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When a young person is given a caution (warning)

Where there’s sufficient evidence to prosecute and the young person (i.e. under 18) admits the offence they may be given a ‘Youth Caution’. This is a formal process without involving a prosecution and court appearance for young people aged between 10 and 17.

Following a Youth Caution, the police will refer the young person to the Youth Justice Team. Youth Cautions do not generally affect a young person's job or future prospects however there are exceptions.

More information is available on the Government's website.

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Youth Justice Bureau

This is an agency that deals with young people who commit crime and anti-social behaviour. They consist of different services such as the Police, Health, Education, Social Services and the local authority.

Through a positive approach they seek to prevent a young person committing further offences and potentially harming their social and educational development or health. This involves an assessment process, interaction and signposting to relevant agencies. They also provide supportive advice to families.

When the Youth Justice Bureau is involved, the support of families is very important in assisting the agency to reduce the likelihood of the young person committing further crime or antisocial behaviour. This can help them develop and reduce the potential of experiencing problems in their early life.

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Can juveniles be ‘refused bail’?

A juvenile is a young person under 17 and there are circumstances where bail may be refused. It’s recognised only in the most exceptional cases where it would be appropriate to detain a young person overnight in custody, given the impact this may have on their wellbeing.

Normally steps are taken for the young person to be taken into the care of the local authority pending the court hearing unless:

  • It is not practicable to do so such as the local authority unable to take them into their care.
  • Where the juvenile is at least 12 years old, no secure accommodation is available and any other accommodation is not adequate to protect the public from serious harm from that juvenile.

In such circumstances the juvenile will remain at the police station pending escort to the relevant court. For breach of bail or an arrest under a warrant, there is no requirement to transfer to local authority care.

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Source: North Wales Police

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