Today is the 10 year anniversary of CYCJ’s move to the University of Strathclyde! In this piece CYCJ Director Fiona Dyer reflects on the change that we’ve helped to drive for children and young people since 2013, and picks out some of her personal highlights from years gone by.
I can’t actually believe that it’s CYCJ’s 10-year anniversary at the University of Strathclyde. As the old saying goes, ‘time flies when you’re having fun’, and that’s certainly how I see my time at CYCJ. We moved from The University of Edinburgh to Strathclyde at the start of March 2013. At Edinburgh we were known as the ‘Criminal Justice Development Centre’, but this didn’t feel right. By June we were officially the ‘Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice’; we changed again to the ‘Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice’ in 2020, to reflect the fact that children are at the heart of everything we do.
Our name is not the only thing that’s changed since 2013. Youth justice in Scotland has witnessed much improvement in the last decade, and I’m proud of the part that CYCJ has played in that journey. Under the Whole System Approach we’ve seen a massive reduction in the number of children in custody; the Secure Care Pathway and Standards have led to improved outcomes and experiences for children in, or on the edges of, secure care; and the Age of Criminal Responsibility has increased – albeit not as far as we might like.
Upholding the rights of children and young people, and ensuring that they have a voice, has become a key feature of the Scottish Government’s agenda. The most notable example of this is arguably the Independent Care Review, and the subsequent formation of The Promise, formalising Scotland’s commitment to care experienced children and young people. Looking forward, there is more change to come: UNCRC incorporation, The Children (Care & Justice) Bill, the creation of Youth Courts, and a review of the Age of Criminal Responsibility all promise a better future for children and young people in conflict with the law.
What exactly is CYCJ? Across 10 years we have continued to put youth justice system(s) and processes under the microscope, with a view to making Scotland a fairer place to grow up. In that time we’ve grown arms and legs; having started out as a team of 5, we’ve now had 63 staff in total, many of whom maintain close links with the Centre after moving on. Our work encompasses practice development, research, workforce support, public policy, participation and engagement and more; it can be hard to explain to someone you’ve never met before exactly what it is we get up to – no one label fits.
However, that uniqueness is our strength; it gives us the ability to engage frankly and honestly with stakeholders from right the way across the youth justice ecosystem, whether they’re cabinet ministers, academics, social workers, students, civil servants or young people. This point was emphasised in an independent evaluation report from 2019 which identified us as a ‘boundary-spanning intermediary organisation’, uniquely placed to drive change in the system.
In the last decade the work of our Research, Participation and Engagement, and Practice and Policy teams has been recognised in various ways, including 2 Butler Trust Awards, in 2016 and 2017. Winning the 2022 Young Scot Community Award was a real highpoint for STARR, as was the recognition for the wider team that came through the Howard League for Penal Reform Community Award in 2018. Needless to say, the team get most of their satisfaction from knowing that their work is having an impact for children and young people on the ground. To pick just one example, back in 2013 we recognised a gap in provision and developed The Interventions for Vulnerable Youth (IVY) service, a specialist psychological and social work service that provides full mental health risk assessments and interventions for highly vulnerable children. That was back in 2013; the IVY service moved from CYCJ to Kibble in 2019, where it is still currently running.
Lasting, significant change is something that can only be achieved collaboratively; partnership working is a core part of what we do. I’m grateful to those funders, partners, colleagues, staff, and young people who share our passion for upholding the rights of children and young people. Across seminars, roadshows, webinars, policy consultations and podcasts we have engaged in dialogue with the experts – including those whose expertise is rooted in lived experience. Your contributions have formed the evidence base that underpins the change we’re starting to see today. Thank you.
Collaboration has been a theme not just nationally, but internationally. We have regularly contributed to the Global Initiative on Justice for Children and the Child-Friendly Justice European Network, and have showcased our work with delegations from Sweden, Moldova, The Netherlands, Greece, France and China, to name but a few.
As well as the serious work that we all do, Team CYCJ has also had a lot of fun over the years; we’ve walked, danced and run for charity – the uphill Balfron 10k was a struggle for some! This has been a great way to keep us all motivated and connected (especially during COVID) and has raised money for some important charities that are close to our hearts.
Personally, one of my highlights over the past 10 years was my trip to Brooklyn, New York, to visit the Red Hook Community Court. A real passion of mine is the development of Youth Courts, where the rights and needs of the child are of central importance. Having the opportunity to visit this Court and see it in action was just amazing. Doing a lecture in return at New York University felt like a pretty good arrangement from my perspective!
Bringing that learning back to Scotland – where the development of Youth Courts is gaining momentum – is something I will hold close to my heart forever. Another achievement of mine is the publication of journal articles to highlight issues of child imprisonment: ‘Just a wee boy, not cut out for prison’ and ‘Exacerbating, illuminating and hiding rights issues: COVID-19 and children in conflict with the law‘ evidence the detrimental impact that prison can have on children. Today there are only 3 children in Polmont – we’re almost there, in terms of having no children in custody in Scotland.
Finally, the best highlight for me, was of course, becoming CYCJ’s Director. It is a dream come true to have the opportunity to lead an organisation that is making a real difference to how we work with, understand, and support children in conflict with the law. I’d like to thank everyone who has contributed to our work over the last 10 years – here’s to 10 more!
About our blogger
Fiona Dyer is the Director of CYCJ. Read more.