‘Prevention’ presents peculiar difficulties for youth justice. In the first place, what sorts of prevention work and what scale of activity is appropriate within the system itself? And then there are pressing and legitimate concerns about the narrow concept of prevention in youth justice compared to other children’s services. So, youth justice has quite rightly faced criticisms from children’s rights perspectives and for being insufficiently child-centred. However, even those academics admirably championing a ‘children first, offenders second’ approach are still centred on the conflicts and tensions in the youth justice system itself and its tendencies to criminalize and to control young people.

In contrast, this chapter explores the possibilities of a broader preventative approach within youth work that is more explicitly informed by sociological and youth studies. Taking examples from my recent doctoral studies, I examine key elements of relationships and opportunities that enable young people to build positive identities and resilience in the face of troubles. The chapter presents an overview of these different perspectives on prevention and ends by discussing what is realistic and achievable in the context of austerity. As the youth justice system shrinks and the voluntary sector finds itself under pressure, what are the prospects for a richer and more holistic prevention agenda to emerge?