Last week the Youth Justice Board launched their Young Person Participation Strategy entitled giving young people a voice in youth justice. The strategy outlines the importance of capturing the views and opinions of young people who offend. Also, what is made clear is that children SHOULD have the opportunity to get involved in decisions about their care and supervision and about how services work (governance). Ultimately, the strategy champions children’s right to a voice, and freedom to seek and impart ideas.
High profile figures have previously called for children to have a stronger voice in the youth justice system. Indeed a report published by Clinks (with Peer Power & Beyond Youth Custody) described the extent of young people’s involvement in the youth justice system, with the majority feeling they are not being heard.
Most recently the Children’s Rights Alliance for England published a detailed briefing paper on children’s experiences of contact with the justice system, detailing unnecessary violence being inflicted on children by police, and one young woman describing degrading treatment by prison staff. Moreover, the Care Quality Commission’s report entitled Not seen not heard found that children are not involved in decisions about their care and that their views are not being represented.
The Youth Justice Board’s participation strategy will help in clarifying that adult practitioners have a responsibility to listen to children and act upon what they say at every stage of the youth justice process (from prevention to resettlement). Although it must be said that young people who offend may be perfectly content for staff to take the lead in organising their intervention, this should not detract from the fact that children who offend are service users with rights and entitlements. They should have the opportunity to be meaningfully heard. Crucially as key stakeholders children who offend can provide unique insight into what works for them and their peers.
What is promoted in the strategy is the importance allowing children to ‘buy in’ to the requirements, provided with opportunities to shape their court order to maximise potential for success. This is important as measures that are controlling and imposed on young people can aggravate matters and lead to resistance, increasing risk of reoffending and compromising public safety.
The ideas and different approaches put forward in the strategy based around more meaningful participatory interventions could help to reconcile a lack of engagement or feelings of disempowerment.
Sean Creaney is a Lecturer in Psychosocial Analysis of Offending Behaviour in the Faculty of Health & Social Care at Edge Hill University. He is an advisor at the social justice charity Peer Power, a Trustee at the National Association for Youth Justice, and a PhD candidate at Liverpool John Moores University. He also writes The Youth Justice Blog in Children and Young People Now.