Looking back at 2019

CYCJ’s Interim Director Fiona Dyer reflects back on 2019, and whether she kept to the resolutions she made back in January…

At the start of 2019 I made some resolutions, based on the key messages that we published in February and my own goals as Interim Director for CYCJ this year. I like to think that I’m a woman of my word, so I’m going to hold myself to account by sharing what I promised and the progress we’ve made…

Act early

We’re big believers in early intervention at CYCJ – something that was echoed by Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Humza Yousaf, when he visited us in August to talk about keeping children and young people out of the criminal justice system. The CYCJ led EEI (Early and Effective Intervention) Practitioners network and forum have focused this year on the importance of EEI being embedded in children’s rights, and how Scotland can become ‘gold standard’ in rights-based practice. This included a workshop held with Maria Galli of the Children and Young People’s Commissioner’s team, based on the Scottish Government’s commitment to the full incorporation of UNCRC by 2021. And our work with West Lothian Council explored the role played by EEI in responding to childhood bereavement in Scotland.

Change policy

It’s been a progressive year for policies and legislation affecting children and young people – many of which we’ve played a part in supporting and shaping.

The age of criminal responsibility was increased to 12 this year and work is ongoing around a further increase to this age in the future. In November, we welcomed Sections 3 and 27 of the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019 coming into force – meaning that children under 12 can only be referred by the reporter to a Children’s Hearing on care and protection grounds and not on offence grounds. We fully support this work, and intend to continue doing what we can to support the journey towards an increase of 14 at least.

There’s been a lot of activity around the Disclosure (Scotland) Bill, currently undergoing its consultation phase in Parliament. The proposed bill aims to end the automatic disclosure of childhood convictions, which represents a significant improvement in a disclosure approach that’s much more likely to be compliant with international children’s rights. Youth Just Us, the young person formed steering group behind the Youth Justice Voices project (see more below) shared their thoughts with Maree Todd, Minister for Children and Young People when she visited them, and Debbie Nolan gave evidence on the Bill to the Education and Skills Committee at the Scottish Parliament

We have submitted evidence to ‘Secure Care and prison places for children and young people in Scotland’, contributed to the Youth Justice standards (currently out for consultation), Secure Care standards, EEI core elements, Diversion standards and new CARM guidance. We also responded to consultations on the Scottish Sentencing Guidelines and the UK Parliamentary Inquiry on Children and Young People in Custody.

In addition, I’ve chaired the ‘Delivering Effective Justice in Scotland: Getting smarter on crime and the causes of crime’ conference in March, joined senior leaders from justice, health, local government and social work for the first meeting of a national group focusing on improving community justice intervention, and been part of the Expert Group on Preventing Sexual Offending by Children and Young People.

Change attitudes

In everything we do, we’re hoping that we can help change or at least challenge attitudes towards the vulnerable children and young people we work with, many of whom are difficult to love, yet are fully deserving of the rights that every child should have.

You may have seen me giving expert comment on working with high risk young people, the impact of secure care placing issues and child criminal exploitation – a topical child protection issue that was the subject of the Child Criminal Exploitation and Serious and Organised Crime conference we hosted with Action for Children, the Scottish Government and Police Scotland in November.

We’ve contributed to the need for hopeful conversations with the publication of the Talking Hope project and my own blog, on why hope is such an important factor in achieving better outcomes. Our Next Steps project with Staf has led to Police Scotland’s Safer Communities commitment to undertake training around the unnecessary criminalisation of children in care, and our ongoing work on trauma, loss and bereavement has helped to improve understanding of trauma, loss and bereavement in the workforce, and in schools and prisons.

Inclusion rather than prevention

Launched this year, the National Lottery funded Inclusion as Prevention project (partnering with Action for Children, South Lanarkshire Council and the Dartington Service Design Lab) is seeking to re-shape the design and delivery of preventative services with children and young people in South Lanarkshire at risk of offending, and their families. Look out for more from this innovative project in 2020.

Speak to young people

2019 has demonstrated the power and potential of young people, with environmental activist Greta Thunberg showing us that age is no barrier to stepping up to lead a cause you passionately believe in. The creation of our Youth Justice Voices project with Staf was proof of this, tasking young people with lived experience of the systems to use their voice to bring about change to the youth justice system. And they have accepted the challenge wholeheartedly, meeting with the Minister for Children and Young People to discuss the Disclosure (Scotland) Bill, recording a podcast on the care system with the Deputy First Minister – and collaborating with Glaswegian artist Slang to explore their experiences via art. I can’t wait to see what 2020 brings for this wonderful group of young people, who are working hard to improve the system for others.

In a first for the National Youth Justice Conference, Humza Yousaf and Maree Todd agreed to answer questions from young people – not shying away from topics including the Children’s Hearing System, mental health in custody and how the government are tackling substance misuse and supporting families affected by this.

Through our Raising Youth Justice blog, we continue to share stories from those who’ve experienced of the justice, care and other systems, whether that’s as a child, parent or supporter. Give these a read if you haven’t already done so – it’s worth your time. And if you decide 2020 is the year you blog for us, please get in touch!

Meet their needs

As mentioned above, our work with the Next Steps project has made significant progress in responding to what young people in looked after care are telling us about how they feel when the police are called out to an incident that would not otherwise attract such an escalated response in a family home. We’ve also listened to what care staff are telling us, and using this to work out ways to support their needs.

In our 2018 survey, parents and carers, and a small number of young people, told us that they feel excluded, confused and stigmatised by the criminal justice process. As a first step towards addressing this, we have introduced a dedicated Parents and Carers section on our website, and we’ll be doing the same for children and young people in 2020 – look out for more on this.

Throughout all this activity, our practitioner support service has continued to be as responsive as always. We’ve received (and done our best to action) over 120 requests each month, holding regular forums, roadshows and updating our key resources to ensure they’re as relevant and accurate as possible.

We have also been taking the time this year to evaluate our work so we can evidence our impact and reach and make necessary improvements going forward – 2020 will see us putting this into practice.

There’s way too much to fit into this blog so keep a look out for our December e-bulletin coming soon, which gives you a handy round up of the year and shares what you might have missed first time around.

That’s all folks!

As my time as Interim Director comes to end, I would really like to thank everyone who has supported me and CYCJ during this year, with a special big thanks to team CYCJ for all their hard work.

It’s now time for me to hand the reins back to Claire, and breathe again!

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University of Strathclyde
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