National Youth Justice Conference 2015

CYCJ’s Practice Development Manager Fiona Dyer describes her experience at the 2015 Youth Justice Conference, held in Dundee on 17 and 18 June.

This year’s National Youth Justice Conference, entitled ‘It’s Complicated: Youth Justice and Complexity in Scotland’, was an amazingly jam-packed two days of speakers, presentations and workshops covering all aspects of the complexities faced by young people and professionals in the field of youth justice.

Hosted in sunny Dundee at the West Park conference centre, practitioners from various disciplines came together for the free two day event. After months of organising (and high blood pressure and the many stresses that are par for the course with organising such an event!) two CYCJ cars were packed full with all the necessary materials on Tuesday 16 June for the trip from Glasgow to Dundee.

After eight years of CYCJ conferences, setting up is a breeze, which always leaves enough time for a refreshment or two before an early night in anticipation of our busiest and best two days of the year.  And this year was ‘one of the best yet’.

Claire Lightowler, Director CYCJ, kicked off the event with an enthusiastic introduction, heightening the excitement and anticipation for what lay ahead, and we were not disappointed.

This year the conference chair duties were shared by a chair and ‘co-chair’ the latter of whom has ‘lived experience’ of the youth justice system, and this really added to the richness of both days.  Standing up in front of an audience of 180 people is nerve-racking for the best of us who do it on a regular basis, but both John and Shaun showed such professionalism and natural talent for the stage that I am sure it’s not the last we have seen of either of them. And of course, there was excellent chairing from Sheriff David Makie and Tam Ballie, keeping to tight time schedules and adding originality and passion (along with a few humorous digs) to both days.

The Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson MSP, commenced the conference by launching the Scottish Government’s new youth justice strategy, which gives a fresh look and direction to be focusing on over the next few years.  Along with the presentation on the evaluation of the Whole System Approach – where complexity isn’t necessarily a problem, what we need is flexibility and diversity – we now know where our priorities and energies need to be directed for the 2015 -2020 period.

Martin Crewe didn’t hang about in leading us into discussion on child sexual exploitation, the Rotherham report and why young people do not self-disclose. He particularly highlighted that online grooming can quickly move into contact and abuse.

Next up were the workshops. Hats off to all the workshop leaders. Delivering three presentations is never easy, especially two in the one day. The workshops covered issues of complexity including from strategy to practice and how best to do this in Scotland; the impact of early childhood trauma on young people and the staff working with them; challenging behaviour and group living; vulnerable young people’s drug use/legal highs; child sexual exploitation; and how as practitioners we can care for ourselves.

Back in the main auditorium Michele Burman gave us all food for thought on how we work with vulnerable girls and young women, the impact of self-harming behaviour and a girl’s experience of victimisation, abuse, poverty, mental illness and substance abuse.  She asked the question, how can we engender a cultural change amongst practitioners to meet the complex needs of girls? How indeed!

CYCJ’s own Jill MacAfee and Stewart Simpson ended the day with a twilight session looking at ‘front page families’, with the view to organising a conference in October to address the issue.  After a long day, people still had the energy to engage in discussions, which was definitely helped by along by a glass of wine!

The youth justice conference is just not the youth justice conference without lots of bad dancing and a few drinks at our conference dinner.  And I’m glad this year didn’t let us down!

So, with a few bleary eyes, Day 2 kicked off to the same energetic start with introductions done by Claire Lightowler before our co-chairs led the way.

Jim Gamble QPM then gave what can only be described as the most riveting, challenging and thought provoking presentation on internet offending. Some of the many messages that Jim left us with were “Young people are left vulnerable through neglect”; “we need to educate, empower, prevent and protect”; and “if you don’t do social media, you don’t do child protection”.

Dr Lorraine Johnstone then led us through the complex arena that is mental health and psychopathy, and discussed how this affects our young people and what the CYCJ’s IVY project is doing to support young people, families and practitioners across Scotland.

The sound bites throughout both days of the conference also offered insight into the complexities of the young people we work with.  The snippet of the video and new training for working with girls, made by the girls in the Good Shepherd has left us wanting more (which we will get when launched in October).  Shaun discussing his experience of residential care and the need for mentors in such establishments was thought provoking, insightful and gave us all a lot to ponder, as well as the success of mentoring for those with alcohol or drug issues.

The conference ended with an excellent presentation from John Cuddihy, Paul Cadberry and Sean on organised crime.  Speaking from experience, Sean gave an honest, courageous, and inspiring insight like no other into a lived reality of criminal families and how hard it is to leave. Maybe another request coming your way Sean for our next conference in October?!

So after months of planning and organising, the conference was over. The banners were taken down (somewhat hurriedly to beat the traffic), the stalls packed up and 160 (or so…..) delegates left Dundee and the rain, and headed home.  Hopefully, with more knowledge, skills and inspiration than they came with.

So to end my blog, I would just like to thank the speakers, the chairs, the workshops leads, the CYCJ staff team, West Park staff and of course, everyone who attended. Without you all the conference would just not be possible.

Now, to start thinking about next year………………….


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University of Strathclyde
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