Celebrating an anniversary – and a new look – for Youth Just Us

Youth Just Us – the dynamic steering group behind the Youth Justice Voices participation project that is creatively influencing change in Scotland’s care and justice systems – are celebrating their two year anniversary with the launch of a new logo. Here Ruth Kerracher, who’s led the project from inception to success, tells us why she’s so proud to be a part of it.

In April 2019, we held our first information session for young people, at the Staf offices in Glasgow. I can remember it vividly. There was a LOT of pizza and remote control cars flying about as we began to get to know one another. Whilst the activities were meant to be fun (which they were), the remote control cars and make-shift race track symbolised a lot more as it was the start of an exciting journey where young people were in the driving seat, deciding not only the direction of the project but how we would drive change in Scotland’s care and justice systems.

We were all nervously excited, and nobody knew what to expect or where we would go next. We’d never have dared to hope that two years on, Youth Justice Voices would be a fully established project, with several sub-projects and a proven track record for influencing change and shaping legislation.

Youth Justice Voices was created as a joint collaboration between Staf and CYCJ, established to amplify the voices of young people aged 16-25 with experience of the care and justice systems. Led by Youth Just Us, our group uses creative ways to ensure that their voices are heard not just in the justice system but also beyond, as they raise issues and recommendations for change with policymakers, managers, corporate parents and the Scottish Government.

“Youth Just Us showed me a huge amount of support when facing one of the most challenging periods of my life by making sure some of my basic needs were met and more, such as financial support, positive interaction and acceptance. YJU are always there to offer advice and steer me in the right direction, asking very little in return.”

The achievements Youth Just Us has accumulated over only 24 months are impressive, proving there are no limits when it comes to the determination of our amazing young people. Highlights include:

  • Influencing the Disclosure (Scotland) Bill by meeting with the Minister for Children and Young People, Maree Todd MSP
  • Receiving a commendation at the 2020 Howard League Community Awardsin the Children in Care and Care Leavers Category
  • Supporting the Scottish Government to engage with care and justice experienced young people on Scotland’s new Vision and Action Plan for Youth Justice, developing and leading online participation sessions as Youth Justice Visionaries.
  • Acting as consultants for No Knives Better Lives (NKBL) on ‘Nae Danger’, a virtual reality game for secondary school pupils that educates them and provokes discussion about the dangers and risks of carrying or using knives.
  • Interviewing Deputy First Minister John Swinney MSP, calling for him to consider removing the age cap of 26 years for the Care Experienced Students Bursary – something he announced the following week.
  • Creating issues based artwork for the Artivism project with the support of local artists, which went on digital display in 2020 to much critical acclaim

“I’ve had lots of opportunities out of Youth Just Us. As a group it’s helped me build my own self-confidence, it’s helped me have some structure and get involved in all the different things that we have around the group.”

When the pandemic and lockdown hit, we were worried about the isolating impact this could have on our young people – many of whom struggle with access to technology – and on their participation rights. Yet despite the challenges, the group kept going as we did everything we could to connect, engage and motivate them. This included online Zoom sessions, emails, phone calls, WhatsApp groups – whatever we could do to support our young people to stay digitally connected. We have continued this throughout by providing devices, data, top-up vouchers, vouchers for food and other creative and well-being activities, thanks to funding from the Life Changes Trust and Covid related funds from Youth Link Scotland. This has helped people in different ways, from mindfulness resources and gym equipment, to arts and crafts materials, cookery books and baking equipment – whatever they felt would reduce boredom and isolation and boost connection and wellbeing. The feedback was encouraging, with the young people telling us what it meant to them to have the group in their lives.

“If I didn’t have our [online] groups I would feel alone and down and not valued, also I would find it hard to get up every morning and keep doing things. It encourages me to go about life as normal as possible…if I didn’t have this then I would find it really difficult”

We also created our first newsletter – for care and justice experienced young people who might not be online. Created entirely by Youth Just Us, along with submissions from others it not only tells them what we’ve been doing but encourages them to get involved, packed with features, topical blogs, poetry, art work and puzzles. Now on Issue Three (and counting!)

Alongside Barnardo’s Youth Work Team, we supported young people involved in our Youth Justice Voices Inside Out project in HMP&YOI Polmont in the early stages of lockdown, offering activities via email a prisoner. We also offered support and advice for young people transitioning into the community during Covid. Unfortunately due to current restrictions the group is on hold, but we are really looking forward to getting things back up and running when the restrictions lift. Members of Inside Out are passionate about driving change and want to focus on rights.

Although it has been a difficult time, it’s also been very inspiring to see how participation and youth work can thrive in a pandemic, with some impressive tenacity and innovation shown by the young people.

Like everything else we do, our logo was created through creative collaboration, with members of Youth Just Us working over several weeks to envision their ideas with Darren Osbourne from 14c Studio, a Glasgow-based BAFTA and BIFTA nominated film and design studio. After much deliberation the logo with the megaphone and strap line influencing action came out top. The group loved the colours, how it looked and what it represented, as the strap line ‘influencing action’ accurately describes what Youth Just Us do. We’re very pleased with the final result and hope you like it too.

When we’re not influencing change, we’re having fun! We’ve enjoyed numerous pizza nights, quizzes, challenged each other at bowling and Laser Quest and are looking forward to our next game of Giant Jenga (a Youth Just Us favourite) when we’re next allowed to meet in person. Having fun still remains an important part of Youth Just Us, we just have to do it from the comfort of our homes. We continue to eat together, agreeing on things we want to cook or what we want from Just Eat! We also try to blend online and offline activities so send out items that people might need to take part in a session, whether it’s simply paper and pens or more exciting art materials.

Lockdown has been really challenging but it’s also helped our group get closer – even though some of us have actually never met in person. I have seen many of the members really grow in confidence; trusting in one another, speaking out, taking ownership over the project and leading the sessions themselves. It’s also much bigger than Youth Just Us – some group members have gone on to take part in lots of other amazing opportunities, getting involved in different projects, groups and influencing opportunities.

“It’s one of the most important and valuable services in my life, it’s cheesy but people like us don’t have families who are mature and capable…it’s made me realise how much I appreciate Staf and other services.”

Working with Youth Justice Voices has been an inspiring, challenging and amazing experience. It’s been an absolute privilege to work alongside all of the young people past or present who have taught me, Kevin and Ross so much – above all never to give up (even when there’s just one person coming along to the group!) They are talented, skilled and know exactly what needs to change. We need to go beyond just listening – we need to support them to take action.

Thank you to everyone who’s joined us and supported us on this journey; the success of participation relies heavily on the collaboration and support of partner agencies. If you’d like to join us in making the next two years even better, please email me on ruth@staf.scot.

Interested in creating participation opportunities with care and justice experienced young people? Join Ruth and members of Youth Just Us at Staf’s Participation Practitioners Forum on May 27.

About our blogger

Ruth Kerracher works in partnership with CYCJ and Staf as a Youth Justice Participation Worker, a post funded by the Life Changes Trust. Read more.

Pictured: A white megaphone set against a bright purple background, with the words ‘Youth Just Us: Influencing Action’ emanating from it. This is the new logo for Youth Just Us.

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