Appropriate adults: guide for youth justice professionals

This guide is for youth justice professionals who are managing appropriate adults and appropriate adult services.

This guidance was withdrawn on

The information on this page is out-of-date, we recommend that you visit the National Appropriate Adult Network website for information and resources.


Whenever the police detain a child or young person (aged 10 to 17), or interview them as a voluntary attender, they must inform an appropriate adult as soon as is practicable and ask them to attend. When the police issue all out-of-court disposals this must also be carried out in the presence of the child or young person’s appropriate adult.

The appropriate adult’s role is to protect the interests of the child or young person. Their responsibilities include:

  • to support, advise and assist the child or young person while detained or interviewed by police
  • to be present when police request consent for, or carry out, various procedures such as fingerprinting, photographing, intimate and strip searches
  • to ensure that the child or young person understands their rights and that you have a role in protecting their rights
  • to observe whether the police are acting properly, fairly and with respect for the rights of the child or young person and to tell them if they are not.
  • to inspect the child or young persons custody record if necessary and in agreement with the custody officer
  • to assist with communication between the child or young person and the police
  • to be present when a child or young person is charged and during other related actions, such as the application of out of court disposals
  • pass any safeguarding concerns to the custody sergeant and YOT
  • ensure that the YOT and/or social services records any other relevant information under agreed data sharing protocols
  • where possible, provide information on, or referrals to, services which may be of benefit to the child or young person

The services which may benefit the child or young person could include:

  • social services
  • the local authority accommodation team
  • liaison and diversion team
  • local charitable services

Who can be an appropriate adult

The following people can be an appropriate adult:

  • the parent or guardian
  • a person representing that authority or organisation, if the young person is in local authority or voluntary organisation care, or is otherwise being looked after under the Children Act 1989
  • a social worker of a local authority
  • an appropriate YOT worker
  • another responsible adult aged over 18

Who cannot be an appropriate adult

A person, including parents and guardians may not be an appropriate adult if:

  • they are suspected of involvement in the offence
  • they are the victim
  • they are a witness
  • they are involved in the investigation
  • they are a police officer or employed by the police
  • they are the young persons solicitor or independent custody visitor
  • the young person has admitted the offence to them before attending to act as the appropriate adult
  • the child or young person is estranged from their parent and specifically objects to them attending

How to provide an appropriate adult in the community and custody

The police’s preferred options for an appropriate adult are:

  • the child or young person’s parent/guardian
  • a representative of the organisation responsible for their care

If they are unwilling, unsuitable or unable to fulfil the role, the police custody sergeant will contact the local youth offending team (YOT) or their contracted provider for an appropriate adult.

Each YOT has a legal duty to provide appropriate adults for all those who need them within the geographical area they cover. This is irrespective of the specific location or the home area of the child. This duty applies at any time of day or night. You should consider requests for attendance out-of-hours in line with the best interests of the individual child.

The police deal with almost all children and young people in a police station, either under arrest or attending voluntarily. But the police may carry out an interview with a child or young person in the following settings:

  • at the secure establishment they are held in
  • at their place of education (only in exceptional circumstances)
  • in the child or young person’s home

How to commission an appropriate adult service

If you work in a YOT there are a range of models that are available for you to consider when commissioning an appropriate adult service.

The Youth Justice Board (YJB) and National Appropriate Adult Network (NAAN) created a resource you can use to help you do this. It provides information on the key elements of the model, factors for consideration and how it can work in practice.

Read the Appropriate adult scheme models for more information.

How to assess and compare the costs of an appropriate adult scheme

NAAN members have access to a budget calculator to help plan the costs for either a new or established scheme.

NAAN designed the calculator in line with good practice funding models. It will help you calculate your budget for the initial year and for a period of three years.

The calculator assumes the use of volunteers but could be adapted for a scheme using only paid staff or sessional workers. This will allow you to compare the cost effectiveness between your current model and alternative models.

The defining principles of the appropriate adult scheme

You should:

Share background information where appropriate

If a young person is identified as requiring an appropriate adult, they may already be involved in the youth justice system.

If, before the interview, the appropriate adult is aware of any relevant information they can arrange for the necessary support to be put in place. This could reduce the amount of time a young person spends in police custody.

Strong links between the police and the appropriate adult scheme provides an opportunity for each service to work together more effectively. You could set up a regular forum between agencies to raise any issues or concerns and provide a way to strengthen the services provided.

Monitor and evaluate the services provided

A quality assurance system should be in place to ensure a high level of service for the young people. You should regularly monitor feedback and reports from the police and other services to ensure an effective evaluation of the service. Schemes should be encouraged to routinely get feedback from young people that used the scheme.

Arrange to make referrals to local liaison and diversion schemes

Appropriate adult schemes should work closely with local liaison and diversion services where they exist. Liaison and diversion services can help identify and assess young people’s health needs or vulnerabilities provide links to the appropriate treatment services. Providing information about their needs to the police and courts will enable them to make informed decisions about charging, sentencing and post sentence services.

Provide training

An appropriate adult should receive a minimum of twenty hours training before starting their role. This should be in the following areas:

  • their role in the police station (including PACE Code C as amended in 2014)
  • police interviews and other detention procedures
  • mental health and learning disability issues and effective communication skills
  • child protection and safeguarding
  • disposals and their implications for the detainee (including, community resolutions, cautions, charging and bail)

They should also shadow an experienced appropriate adult for some visits, including to the local custody suite to meet relevant staff.

Have a safeguarding policy

Safeguarding the needs of a young person in police custody is an important responsibility for an appropriate adult in custody. The scheme should have a safeguarding policy in place which outlines the steps it will take if a concern is raised about a young person. The policy should describe:

  • the signs to recognise abuse
  • the process for dealing with disclosures and reporting concerns
  • the safeguarding steps which are taken when recruiting appropriate adults

Appropriate adults and the law

The two pieces of legislation which refer directly to appropriate adults are the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984 and the Crime and Disorder Act 1998.

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984

Read the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) 1984 for more information.

The appropriate adult role was created with the introduction of PACE and its associated codes of practice. The Act sets out the powers and duties of police, including in relation to people in police detention.

Section 63B(10)(a) defines who may act as an appropriate adult. If a parent, guardian, representative of the organisation responsible for their care or a local authority social worker is unavailable any responsible person aged 18 or over may fulfil the role. The exception is police officers and police employees.

Section 66(1)(b) requires the Secretary of State to issue codes of practice in connection with the detention, treatment, questioning and identification of persons by police officers.

Section 67 requires codes of practice, and revisions to them, to be made by statutory instrument. Breaches of the codes are not in themselves a criminal or civil offence but can be used in evidence and will be taken into account by courts and tribunals.

The various sections of the following codes provide detailed information on the role, responsibilities and powers of an appropriate adult:

Code Detail
Code C sets out the requirements for the detention, treatment and questioning of suspects not related to terrorism
Code D governs the exercise by police of statutory powers to identify people, including fingerprinting and ID parades
Code E governs audio recording interviews with suspects
Code F covers visual recording with sound of interviews with suspects

The Crime and Disorder Act 1998

Read the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 for more information.

Section 38 places a duty on local authorities, through their YOTs, to ensure the provision of persons to act as appropriate adults to safeguard the interests of children and young persons detained or questioned by police officers.

Section 39 places a duty on YOTs to co-ordinate the provision of youth justice services for all those in the authority’s area who need them.

Section 66ZA (as amended by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012) requires an appropriate adult to be present for a person under the age of 17 in order for a youth caution to be carried out and when the effects of the youth caution are explained by the constable to the young person and the appropriate adult.

Section 66ZB (1-3, 5-7) outlines the effects of youth cautions and requires the constable after the caution has been given to refer the young person to a YOT and appropriate interventions to be put in place.

Section 66B requires an appropriate adult to be present when the effect of the youth conditional caution is explained to a person under the age of 17 and the warning regarding failure to comply with the conditions is issued.

In addition, the provision of an appropriate adult scheme should be seen in light of the following UK legal requirements:

Children Act 2004

  • Section 10 requires each local authority to make arrangements to promote cooperation with the local policing body and other appropriate bodies working with children in the area, with a view to improving the wellbeing of children, including protection from harm.
  • Section 11 places a duty on YOTs to ensure their functions, and any services that they contract out to others, are discharged with regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

Children Act 1989

  • Section 21(2)(b) requires local authorities to provide accommodation for children in police detention when it is requested under section 38(6) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. The police are required to transfer to local authority accommodation any juvenile that is charged and authorised for continued police detention.
  • Schedule 2 paragraph 7 requires every local authority to take reasonable steps designed to reduce the need to bring criminal proceedings against children in their area, to encourage them not to commit criminal offences and to avoid the need for them to be placed in secure accommodation.

Important changes to the way police treat 17-year-olds

The treatment of 17-year-olds by police is currently undergoing a period of change following a High Court decision in 2013. Please note that:

  • under s.38 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, YOTs have a statutory duty to provide appropriate adults for children (aged 10 to 14) and young people (aged 15 to 17)
  • section 50 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 sets the age of criminal responsibility at ten years old
  • the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) refers only to juveniles (currently defined as those who are not yet 17)
  • the Home Office revised PACE Code C in 2013, extending the requirement for appropriate adults to 17-year-olds (note that this does not include Youth Cautions and Youth Conditional Cautions). However, it did not amend the definition of juveniles in the PACE Act

In 2015, the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill is expected to make the following changes in relation to 17-year-olds:

  • The legal requirement for an appropriate adult will be extended to 17-year-olds in relation to Youth Cautions and Youth Conditional Cautions. In the meantime the guidance will change to reflect this.
  • The definition of a juvenile in PACE 1984 will include 17-year-olds. This will mean that 17-year-olds have the same treatment as other children and young people in relation to post charge bail from custody and transfers to local authority accommodation.
  • 17-year-olds will continue to be able to give consent to police procedures without the consent of their parents

Read detailed guidance on 17-year-olds on the NAAN website for more information.

Relevant guidance

The following guidance is available to support delivery of your service.

National Standards for Youth Justice Services

Strategic and operational management standards are set by the Secretary of State for Justice on advice from the YJB. The standards apply to those organisations providing statutory youth justice services.

Read the YJB National Standards for more information.

You should develop and/or commission appropriate adult services in line with the general strategic standards. For example:

  • equality and diversity opportunities
  • evidence-based commissioning
  • quality assurance processes
  • workforce development and training

Strategic standard 14 requires that a local policy/protocol is in place which outlines the provision of an appropriate adult service in line with NAAN’s National Standards.

Operational management standard 2 (youth cautions and youth conditional cautions) requires the police to issue all out-of-court disposals in the presence of the child or young person’s appropriate adult.

Operational management standard 3 (bail & remand management) requires that a comprehensive local remand management strategy is in place to ensure provision of appropriate adults and other matters including facilities to accommodate those young people detailed under section 38(1) of PACE 1984 and transferred to local authority accommodation by virtue of PACE s.38(6).

NAAN National Standards for Appropriate Adult Schemes

NAAN’s National Standards are approved by the Home Office and were updated in 2013, taking into account the recommendations of the joint inspection report, Who’s looking out for the children.

They concern all aspects of an appropriate adult service including: recruitment and selection; support, supervision, development and retention; training; and service delivery. They apply to all types of scheme.

NAAN Guidance

The NAAN website provides a range of guidance for appropriate adults and scheme co-ordinators, covering both service provision and scheme development.

YJB Case Management Guidance

Section 3 (bail and remand management) provides guidance to YOTs on the provision of an appropriate adult service in line with the NAAN National Standards. It covers both the general operating requirements and specific operational matters.

Read how to manage bail and remand services in the YJB Case Management Guidance for more information.

Ministry of Justice: Code of Practice for Youth Conditional Cautions

Sections 4.1.4 and 16.1 outline the requirement for an appropriate adult to be present in order for a conditional caution to be given. The appropriate adult must be present when the effect of the youth conditional caution is explained and the child or young person is warned that failure to comply with any of the conditions may result in prosecution for the original offence.

Ministry of Justice: Youth Cautions Guidance for Police and Youth Offending Teams

Section 4 (decision making) states that appropriate adults should have access to information about the options available, including Youth Cautions, in support of the child or young person making an informed decision before they are asked whether they admit the offence. It must never be suggested that they should admit to an offence or that this will guarantee a Youth Caution.

Section 5 (reasons for bail) states that appropriate adults should be informed of the reasons for bail, e.g. more information is required before the police decide between a youth caution or charge.

Section 9 requires an appropriate adult to be present for a Youth Caution to be given where the offender is under 17 years of age, or if there is any doubt about the capacity or ability of the young person to understand the nature or implications of the Youth Caution process, and to be given copies of any written information provided to the child or young person. Where a YOT officer is present they are not acting as appropriate adult and therefore are not a replacement for the young person’s parent or guardian or other appropriate adult. The appropriate adult must sign a form confirming that the Youth Caution was for the offence indicated.

Published 19 December 2014