Reimagining The Promise Pt. 2

At the start of Care Experience Week 2023, CYCJ Director Fiona Dyer shares this insight into the work that we’re going to help shape a brighter, fairer future for care experienced children and young people in Scotland. 

This time last year I wrote a blog highlighting how, following the publication of the Independent Care Review, CYCJ adapted our approach.  We want to contribute to the nationwide effort to make Scotland ‘the best place in the world to grow up’ for care experienced children and young people. A year down the line, we have put a lot of energy and resource into doing our bit to #KeepThePromise, energising existing projects and building new ones. At the start of CEW23, it feels like the right moment to explore how CYCJ is working to #KeepThePromise and contribute towards a better future for care experienced children in Scotland.

As we all know, we still have some way to go if we are to Keep the Promise by 2030; it needs to be a collective effort, to make change happen and get things right for our care experienced children and young people.

Giving Young People a Seat at the Table

CYCJ’s 2020-2025 Strategy and workplan align with the recommendations of The Promise; relationships are at the core of our work. One of the triumphs of the Independent Care Review was the way in which it clearly placed children and young people’s voices and experiences at the centre; that continued commitment to respecting the voices of lived experience was evident again in the development of ‘Hearings for Children’, the Redesign Report from the CHS Working Group. Our dedicated Participation and Engagement team similarly foster supportive relationships with children and young people with lived experience to ensure that their voices are heard and respected across practice, policy, and research. Utilising our relationships with the workforce, academia, children and young people, policymakers and more, we hold a space in which all forms of knowledge and expertise are valued equally. We also ensure that children, young people, their families, and those working in the sector have the information they need, presented to them in a way that works for them.

Examples of our Participation work during the past year includes helping young people to co-produce the Bairns’ Hoose Standards, and Research Raccoons supporting the development of research skills in schools. We also have a suite of accessible resources available on Just the Right Space, which was designed specifically for children and young people.

Working to Keep The Promise

Since 2022, CYCJ has secured funding from the Promise Partnership to develop different areas of work, to Keep the Promise.  This has led to growth in our Reimagining Justice team, who support local authorities to collaboratively reimagine their services in partnership with children, young people and families. Working together they design and develop the rights-respecting services that children and young people want to see, and which will meet their needs. 

Reimagining Justice brings together the opinions, knowledge, and experience of everyone involved to create a comprehensive understanding of what effective, meaningful, and sustainable change looks like for services supporting children in conflict with the law. Using the Scottish Approach to Service Design, it entails a three-phase process:  

Phase 1: helping organisations to gather and include the views of children, young people, and their families, alongside the workforce, to understand where developments and improvements could be most impactful and achievable.

Phase 2: directly supporting services to achieve meaningful change

Phase 3: Evaluation.  

The Independent Care Review was clear that children cannot fully participate in adult court proceedings:

 “Traditional criminal courts are not settings in which children’s rights can be upheld and where they can be heard”. (2020, p. 41) 

In order to address this issue, the Reimagining Justice team is supporting local authorities to consider the introduction of youth courts. Using our evaluation of the Glasgow Youth Court, we are currently in discussions with 12 Local Authorities about the potential development of youth courts in their area. Part of this work has included creating a ‘blueprint’ for local authorities and partners, highlighting important areas that require consideration. This is based on feedback from children and young people who have experience of youth courts (and adult courts) from across Scotland. We are also working with children and young people to develop a suite of resources to ensure that they know their rights when at Court.  One example of this is the video guidance Kev Lafferty (Youth Justice Voices / STAF) produced for young people preparing to attend Glasgow Youth Court.

We are also working in partnership with colleagues from Action for Children to raise awareness of child criminal exploitation and how it can be addressed. Too many children are being criminalised when they themselves are the victims of exploitation and need our protection. This was one of many important findings in the CCE Report by Nesha Dixon which we published earlier this year. CYCJ and Action for Children will be working with 3 Local Authorities to pilot a new approach to CCE that can then be rolled out across Scotland.

Last month we were also successful in securing Promise funding to extend the support we offer to the workforce. Youth justice in Scotland is witnessing significant legislative and procedural change, including the Children’s Care and Justice (Scotland) Bill, the Children’s Hearings System Redesign, and a potential further increase in the Age of Criminal Responsibility. Against this backdrop of change there is an urgent need for a national intervention approach to increase workforce competence and increase community confidence.

To successfully uphold the UNCRC, #KeepThePromise, and remove children from adult justice systems, CYCJ advocates for holistic, systemic interventions for children which are developmentally-informed, and trauma-informed. We welcome the contextual and systemic approaches, but there remains a significant gap in how we meet the individual needs of the child and the developmental milestones they may have missed because of their childhood experiences. The development of safe, loving and respectful relationships is fundamental to reducing distressed and harmful behaviours.

We will be working with partners over the coming 18 months to develop a national intervention approach, suitable for a wide workforce (police/education/social work-children and families & justice/residential and secure care/third sector/foster carers/health). This will support the workforce to:

  • Respond in a rights-respecting, relational, developmentally-informed, and trauma-informed manner.  
  • Work competently and confidently with children whose behaviour causes most harm (including harmful sexual behaviour). 
  • Keep children in the Children’s Hearings System where their needs are best met.  
  • Respond in a way that reduces the criminalisation of children. 
  • Keep the Promise

Plan 21-24 envisioned that by 2024:

“The disproportionate criminalisation of care experienced children and young people will end. 16- and 17-year-olds will no longer be placed in Young Offenders Institutes for sentence or on remand. There will be sufficient community-based alternatives so that detention is a last resort.” (p.23)

Scotland must fundamentally rethink the purpose, delivery and infrastructure of secure care, being absolutely clear that it is there to provide therapeutic, trauma-informed support. Rather than placing vulnerable children in prison, or prison-like settings, Scotland needs services and structures that provide rights-based, trauma-informed support. Whilst secure care is better placed to meet children’s needs and uphold their rights than prison, there is still lots of work to do within both secure care and in the development of community alternatives if we are to Keep the Promise. At CYCJ we’re leading on this work via our Reimagining Secure Care project.

Taking this a step further, CYCJ have also been promoting the use of alternatives to police custody for children and young people. In partnership with Social Work Scotland, we will jointly host an event in November to look at Places of Safety as an alternative to police custody. Children have told us that being held in custody is the most traumatising part of their justice journey – it needs to stop.

The Independent Care Review was a landmark moment for Scotland. Delivering transformational change was never going to be easy, but working together we can build a system in which the most vulnerable children in this country are supported to address their trauma, rather than one that disproportionately criminalises them. CYCJ is proud to play a role in support this transformation. Together we can  #keepthepromise

If you are interested in finding out more about ‘Reimagining Justice?’ or any other areas of our work. Or do you think there is more that we can be doing to #KeepThePromise? If so, please get in touch with to start a conversation.

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University of Strathclyde
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