January feels like another world…

Claire Lightowler, CYCJ’s Director and author of ‘Rights Respecting? Scotland’s approach to children in conflict with the law’, reflects on the challenges of maintaining a long-term vision during the immediate challenges of the coronavirus pandemic – and why she’s more determined than ever to keep children’s rights at the forefront of the youth justice agenda…

Like most other people, suddenly I’ve found myself focused on responding to the immediate challenges presented by the coronavirus and lockdown conditions. CYCJ is not a frontline service, so for us the impacts have been less significant, challenging or traumatic than experienced by most of the practitioners we are here to support.

We quickly (and fairly easily) put things in place to support the CYCJ team to work from home and we’ve been able to continue our work, albeit with an additional focus and using new methods.

We’re continuing to provide our practitioner support service, which has been busy with requests for advice and guidance, and with practitioners wanting to talk things through with people who care. We are still organising meetings and practitioner forums, for people to share, and where possible, resolve issues and concerns. We are feeding in concerns from practice with relevant organisations, particularly the Scottish Government. We’ve also produced a short review of the implications of coronavirus for children in conflict with the law, which we’re updating on a weekly basis.

The current coronavirus situation poses new challenges for children, with the potential for children to be experience a criminal response to their behaviours; issues about the health and wellbeing of children in Young Offender Institutions, secure care and in residential care; and challenges in supporting contact and connections, particularly with those most excluded and at risk. We are already hearing about some of the amazing things that people are doing to find ways around these challenges, but there are deeply concerning issues that remain unresolved.

CYCJ is also continuing with our longer-term projects and priorities. The team are currently writing up work about bail and remand, results from the secure care census, updating our Youth Justice practice guide with new sections for 2020, and much more…

Given our strategic role and positioning, it’s important that we balance the short-term immediate support, with longer-term thinking and support. For everyone right now the longer-term thinking is a challenge, as with so many unknowns it is hard to grapple with or prioritise the longer-term. But, as we come to terms with some physical distancing measures being likely to continue for longer than we originally could bear to think about, it is important we start to again take time and space to think about what we want our response to children in conflict with the law to be.

We all need to keep in mind our longer-term vision and purpose for children in conflict with the law. Whilst understandable, there is a danger that our immediate actions in response to a crisis are detached from broader principles and purposes. Unintentionally, we may find the impact of our actions have taken us away from what we are seeking to achieve. This is why, as well as working on supporting the immediate practice and policy needs, we are also determined at CYCJ to do what we can to support practice development, reflection and longer-term thinking wherever this is possible.

January now feels like another world, yet that was when we hosted a symposium to launch our report, Rights Respecting? Scotland’s approach to children in conflict with the law. This explores how Scotland is performing in terms of complying with children’s rights and offers suggestions for how we improve our response. In essence, it proposes reframing youth justice issues more clearly around rights.

The symposium was an emotional experience, for me at least, as I began to share my thinking and concerns with a range of participants who also did the same. There were powerful inputs from Professor Manfred Nowak (Lead for the Global Study on the Deprivation of Liberty); Bruce Adamson (Scotland’s Children and Young People’s Commissioner); Professor Jennifer Davidson (Executive Director, Institute for Inspiring Children’s Futures); Malcolm Graham (Deputy Chief Constable Crime and Operational Support, Police Scotland); Tom McNamara (Unit Head for Youth Justice and Children’s Hearings, Scottish Government) and Lynne McNiven (Interim Director of Public Health, NHS Ayrshire & Arran). We’ve put together a note of what was discussed, the key themes covered and thoughts on next steps – access it here.

To make sure these messages are accessible to a younger audience, we have created a version of the report that’s accessible to children, in both words and design. This was designed with feedback from the young people of Youth Justice Voices. You can download the full version and separate sections here.

With the publication of Scotland’s Care Review the week following the symposium, and with the incorporation of UNCRC planned for 2021, it felt like there was a powerful momentum for change. I was anticipating spending 2020 further engaging with people across Scotland about the suggestions in the report, to explore what is needed and how we do it. Events have taken over as people obviously right now need to focus on the immediate demands, but I will be looking to continue paused conversations when people can and are in the right frame of mind to talk. Please do get in touch when you feel the time is right.

About our blogger

As Director of CYCJ, Claire Lightowler is passionate about ensuring that practitioners and children and young people have opportunities to share what they know and influence strategic and policy decisions. Read more.

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