Children seen and heard at Youth Justice Convention

Sean Creaney
Tuesday, December 8, 2015

All too often children are seen and not heard in the youth justice context – especially so at national events. Their voices are often ignored. However I am pleased to report that the Youth Justice Convention in Leicester organised by the Youth Justice Board and DODS involved children and young people at various points.

The Convention theme this year was ‘The Journey of the Child’ and more young people were involved than ever before!

Lin Hinnigan – the YJB's chief executive – spoke about “the child being at the heart of everything we do”. Co-chair Natalie Atkinson – a London School of Economics postgrad student – shared her experiences of the importance having a consistent and caring worker who goes above and beyond. Natalie spoke about the importance empowering children to have a say on “what works” when it comes to achieving positive outcomes and preventing crime. These examples are not exhaustive.

Shared Decision Making (SDM)

That young people were at the centre of delivery at the convention was most evident at the shared decision making workshop led by Peer Power. Shared decision making is a model most often utilised in adolescent mental health services, and here the space was provided to share practical examples of how to improve youth involvement at all levels of the youth justice system. Young people from Leeds, Leicester, Clayfields Secure Children’s Home, Kingston & Richmond, and York youth justice services were involved in the design and delivery of a very engaging, thought-provoking and participatory workshop. They each spoke – some performed – passionately about experiences of their involvement in practice supervision and services. They provided real and unique insight about different forms of engagement that can help to improve outcomes for children and young people.

Anne-Marie Douglas from Peer Power, an organisation whose work is founded upon the views of children and young people with experience of youth justice and care services, noted that children with experience of the youth justice system do try to have their voices heard but sometimes this is through their offending behaviour. Anne-Marie said how it is vital that the views of excluded children are listened to and acted upon at every stage of the youth justice system from prevention to resettlement, individually, locally and nationally.

A key message was that provision should be user-led – as much as is practically possible – where opportunities to co-design and shape service delivery are actively created by staff and policymakers alike. Children at this workshop said assessment and decision making should be on their terms of reference – doing “with” rather than “to” or “for” them.  Relationships, empathy, consistency and “whole service buy in” were expressed as best practice.

The shared decision making model should have been utilised prior to the announcement of the cuts to youth justice services. As service users children should always be meaningfully consulted – they are key stakeholders and can provide a unique insight into “what works” for them and their peers.

Sean Creaney is an advisor at social justice charity Peer Power

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