Referral Order and the contract

A Referral Order is a contract agreed between the young person and panel members to prevent reoffending

When a young person pleads guilty at court to their first criminal offence, the usual outcome is a Referral Order. There are two possible exceptions.

  • If the court feels able to deal with the offence by an absolute discharge
  • or if the court decides that the offence was so serious that only a custodial sentence is appropriate.


A Referral Order can be between three and twelve months long. The court will set the length of the order, based on their assessment of the seriousness of the offence.

How it works

A Youth Justice Officer from Dorset Combined Youth Offending Service (DCYOS) will be allocated to the young person. The YOS Officer will visit the young person, and their carers, soon after the court date, to complete an assessment. The aim of the assessment is to work out the reasons for the offence, and any issues that might need some work in order to reduce the risk of re-offending. The YOS Officer will also talk to other professionals who may know the young person, so their assessment is as accurate as possible. The YOS Officer will use the assessment to enable them to produce a written report for the initial panel meeting.

The Panel

The YOS runs a group of community volunteers, known as panel members. For each referral order, two panel members are allocated. Within 20 days of the court appearance, there must be an initial panel meeting. This is attended by the young person and their carer, the YOS Officer, and the two panel members. The aim of the meeting is to establish what happened, the reasons for it, and to agree a 'contract' of what work the young person will do during the Referral Order. The duration of the order begins when the contract is agreed, for example a six month order will run for six months from the date of the initial panel meeting.

The Contract

The contract is the agreement between the panel members and the young person about what work will be done with and by the young person during the order. The contract must include some work to reduce the risk of re-offending. Also, some activity by the young person to repair the harm they have caused (sometimes called reparation).

Progress Meetings

Progress meetings take place at least every three months, so that the panel members can meet again with the young person, their carer and their YOS Officer, to review the progress on completing the contract. There is a final meeting at the end of the order to confirm that the young person has completed the contract successfully.

Non compliance

The YOS is responsible to the Court for ensuring that the court order is carried out. The young person is required to keep all appointments, and to abide by behaviour rules during appointments. Failures to comply, without an acceptable reason, can lead to the panel being re-convened. The panel members then need to decide if the young person should be allowed to continue with the order or should be returned to court for 'breach' of the order. If the young person is taken back to court for breach, the court may decide to 'revoke' (cancel) the order and to re-sentence the young person.

Involving the victim

Involving the victim of the offence is an important part of Referral Orders, and is part of an approach known as Restorative Justice. The guiding principle is that the victim has the choice about whether to be involved, or how much to be involved. The YOT has a separate worker, the Victim Liaison Officer, who makes contact with the victim. Activities could include some or all of the following:

  • The young person may be asked to write an apology letter.
  • The young person may be required to do unpaid work, either for the benefit of the victim (direct reparation) or for the benefit of the community (indirect reparation).
  • The Victim Liaison Officer may voice the victim's views at a panel meeting, or at a separate meeting with the young person.
  • The victim may attend a meeting with the young person, either with the panel members or separately. Such a meeting would be facilitated by the Victim Liaison Officer and would be carefully managed to ensure it is a positive experience for both parties.

Specialist workers

Other YOS workers may also meet with the young person. The YOS has different types of worker in the team, so that it can respond to the different needs of each young person. The team includes social workers, health workers, a psychologist, a police officer, a probation officer and an education officer.  For example if the young person's offence was drug related or alcohol use, they may be asked to meet the YOS' health workers. If their attendance at school is an issue then the YOS' education officer may become involved.

Parent support

The parents of the young person are very important to the whole process. The YOS Officer often seeks to meet the young person at home, and to make a positive working relationship with the parent or carers. For some parents it is helpful to have a separate contact in the YOS who can support them with their efforts to look after the young person. The YOS has parenting workers who can undertake this work.

Criminal record

Avoiding a criminal record is a big concern for many young people and parents. If the young person completes the referral order successfully, then the conviction is deemed to be 'spent' as soon as the order ends. This means that for many jobs the young person would not need to declare the conviction. For some jobs, that involves contact with vulnerable groups like children or the elderly, a full criminal record check will be required, in which case the conviction would still need to be disclosed. The YOS can provide more advice, based on the individual circumstances of the young person.

Re offending

If the young person goes to court for a separate offence during the referral order, the court has the option of extending the order. This can only happen once, and the total length of the order cannot exceed 12 months. If the young person re-offends after the referral order, then the court will choose from a range of different sentences. If there are exceptional circumstances, such as the length of time between the offences, the court could consider making a second referral order.

Contact details East Dorset

Dorset Combined Youth Offending Service
Bournemouth Learning Centre
Ensbury Avenue
BH10 4HG


Telephone: 01202 794321

Contact details West Dorset

Dorset Combined Youth Offending Service 
Monkton Park
Winterborne Monkton 


Telephone: 0300 123 3339