by Dawn Exley, SCSN National Development Officer

We recently attended a seminar from Red Harbour on youth justice and how a rights-based approach could be key to changing the system for the better.

Dr Claire Lightowler – Director of the Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice, presented on her work ‘Rights Respecting? Scotland’s approach to children in conflict with the law’, which is a seminal piece of work and the first of its kind to translate the UNCRC into Scottish specific actions to improve policy, practice and experience in youth justice.  Dr Lightowler also discussed the overall policy direction of youth justice in Scotland and the journey we are still on to getting it right.  She explained the need for a cultural and attitudinal change towards thinking of children as rights holders and defenders and how, until we begin to do this, we are not in-keeping with the UNCRC.  There is clearly a real opportunity with the incorporation of UNCRC into Scot’s Law to progress a rights and entitlement-based approach in Scotland going forward.

We also heard from Martin Dorchester, Chief Executive of Includem and Amy, a young person who is supported by Includem and has lived experience of the youth justice system in Scotland.  They discussed the importance of a rights based approach in terms of early intervention, public awareness and perceptions and understanding root causes. In the ensuing presentations and discussions, some related key themes also emerged:

  • The new Youth Justice Strategy
  • Important that children and the public know their rights, especially with UNCRC now in Scot’s law.
  • Early and effective intervention (EEI) is important and key, but we must also be thinking more holistically and that a rights-based approach effectively is EEI.
  • Really important that the new strategy includes advocacy as a model and be resourced and implemented correctly.
  • We need to have alternatives to remand for children and young people, given what we know about the damage this causes.
  • It is critical that effort be put into making the justice system and the language used, easily understandable for children and young people.
  • Age appropriate accountability
  • Stages at which children mature is different for every person. If we are child centred – age doesn’t apply.
  • Young people need to be able to access support at different times, it is important we allow children to go on journeys, including making mistakes.
  • If a child is deprived of their liberty, then we need to put in place things that will allow the child to continue to develop.
  • The need for funding into Youth Work
  • Children need mentors/youth work support.  Community-based services are key.
  • ‘Youth work, in my experience, is absolutely essential and unrecognised and denigrated at a strategic level’– Dr Claire Lightowler
  • Young people themselves often identify youth work as something that would help them.
  • ‘Young people will thrive in places of safety and places of trust’ – Martin Dorchester.

Finally, the need for broader consideration of the impact of poverty, more clarity on political direction and the vital importance of funding were touched on.  A great event that really brought home the case for rooting policy and practice in human rights.  You can watch the event in full here.