Supporting good practice with care experienced children in custody

The Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice (CYCJ), in collaboration with the Scottish Child Law Centre, has produced a new resource to support Scottish solicitors and practitioners with Good Practice Principles when representing care experienced children in police custody, to ensure their rights are upheld.

‘Representing care experienced children & young people in police custody: A good practice guide’ also includes advice for children and young people to help them know what their rights are, and what they are entitled to, in police custody. This guide was co-produced with care/justice experienced young people.

Children with care experience are more likely than their peers to experience police contact and criminalisation, despite no evidence that they commit greater offences than other children. They are less likely to receive support at the police station from family or a responsible adult, which can affect both their experience of police custody and the criminal justice outcome. This issue was highlighted as a priority area in The Promise, which shares recommendations from Scotland’s Care Review.

In response, CYCJ and the Scottish Child Law Centre have published ‘Representing care experienced children & young people in police custody: A good practice guide’. This brings together practical advice, research and guidance, aimed at criminal solicitors, practitioners and children and young people. It is based on a paper from the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Youth Justice Legal Centre (part of Just for Kids Law), and includes inputs from Youth Just Us and Scottish solicitors.

The guide comprises:

  • A report exploring the key issues around the criminalisation of care experienced children and young people
  • A Summary of Good Practice Principles for Solicitors
  • An Information Sheet for Youth Justice Practitioners
  • Information and advice for children and young people, detailing their rights in police custody, and what they are entitled to ask for. This was co-produced with young people.

Debbie Wilson, Convenor of the Criminal Law Committee, said:

“This is an interesting, experiential and constructive Good Practice Guide developed by CYCJ and the Scottish Child Law Centre based on their academic expertise on how best to deal with children that are involved in our criminal justice system. We are increasingly aware of the need to respect children’s rights, including those when they are involved in criminal justice.

“I welcome the development of such guidance as it is helpful for criminal practitioners wherever they are based in Scotland, from trainee to partner, to assist them in their effective representation of their clients.”

Fiona Dyer, Director (Interim) of CYCJ, said:

“When you’re in custody as a child or young person, it can be a frightening experience. You don’t know what your rights are and may be too scared to ask – or assume you don’t have any. Children in custody come from a diverse range of backgrounds with different experiences, which may mean they are already deeply traumatised and amongst the most vulnerable in our society. This is particularly the case with children who are care experienced, who are overrepresented in Scotland’s criminal justice system.

“Many children in custody also present with speech, language and communication needs, making the situation more challenging for them to understand and participate in – which can lead to unfair outcomes and longer sentences being imposed.

“To avoid triggering any further trauma, and ensure all children feel safe and respected and their rights upheld, we have produced this guide to help solicitors and practitioners ensure the best support and advocacy is provided to these children.”

Irina Beaton, Director of the Scottish Child Law Centre, said:

“Children are rights holders, just like adults, but they also have additional rights to be protected from harm and to recover from trauma no matter what challenges they face. With the commitment to incorporate the UNCRC into Scots law and increasing the age of criminal responsibility we must double our efforts to make sure every child knows what their rights are, and what it means to have those rights in practice. This is particularly important for children who have already experienced trauma and are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

“We hope that this guide will help professionals, those who look after and care for children, and children themselves to better understand those rights.”

An online event on August 25 will mark the launch of this guide. Confirmed speakers are Gillian Mawdsley (Law Society of Scotland); Claire Sands (Howard League for Penal Reform); Beth-Anne Logan (STARR group); Irina Beaton (Scottish Child Law Centre); and Fiona Dyer (CYCJ). Although primarily for criminal defence solicitors, this is open to anyone with an interest in this area. Register here.

Image courtesy of No Knives Better Lives

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