Reimagining The Promise

We talk about Keeping The Promise – but what does this actually look like, when working with children and young people in conflict with the law? CYCJ’s Director Fiona Dyer shares why and how CYCJ has changed its approach to be part of the change demanded by the findings of the Independent Care Review.

Keeping The Promise…and Meeting The Promise. If you’ve been in any care or justice setting, meeting or presentation since February 2020, chances are, these are words you will have heard a lot. Since the first  ‘independent, root and branch review of Scotland’s care system’ was published as seven reports badged under The Promise, we’ve all been determined (and rightly so) to show how we are working together to change how we do care.

People of all ages were consulted across the nation, sharing their voices and experiences in the thousands to inform the Review, direct much needed change in the care system and (in the words of The Promise’s Chair Fiona Duncan) ‘help make their lives better’.

In late March 2021, Plan 21-24 was published with contents derived from over 100 organisational submissions to The Promise Scotland outlining what changes they need to make to meet the ambition of The Promise.

Here at CYCJ, The Promise closely aligns with our own rights-respecting ambitions and changes we are calling for in relation to children and young people in conflict with the law, and with our belief that cultural change is needed to ensure that offending behaviours by children are treated as an indication of the need for care and protection, rather than punishment.

Recently we shared an overview of the work we have undertaken so far, and are currently planning, to support the delivery of The Promise Plan 21-24.

Highlights include establishing Scotland’s first participation group, Youth Justice Voices, supporting the award-winning STARR (Scotland’s only space for secure care experienced people) and developing and implementing the Secure Care Pathway and Standards Scotland, which set out what all children in or on the edges of secure care should expect across supports and services. Together with four
co-hosts, we’re also part of the National Leadership Network that’s encouraging care experienced people to step up to leadership roles.

We have also undertaken research into important and timely topics such as the impact of the pandemic on children and young people, bail and remand and children’s rights. Through our training and events programme (including our Postgraduate Certificate, webinars and roadshows) we are helping to build a fully trauma and risk informed workforce, and we are also challenging the language that we use around care and justice experienced children and young people.

And then there’s our wealth of resources, blogs and stories that were co-produced and written by young people who are themselves who want to help others. These can all be found at ‘Just the Right Space’ – the website that we co-produced alongside young people to help people of all ages and backgrounds to better understand and navigate the justice system.

Throughout, we have maintained excellent relationships with local authorities, with whom we share feedback from what we hear from children, young people and their families, and support them to consider what this means for change in policy and practice.

However, to bring about fully rights-respecting (and sustainable) change that can effectively meet and deliver on the demands of the UNCRC and The Promise, we believe a new approach was needed – something we hadn’t tried before and that would challenge us (and others) to think and act differently. Furthermore, we’d heard from local authorities in our 2020 evaluation that they were keen for us to expand our support to help them reflect on service provision, and to design and deliver change.

Our answer was to introduce ‘Reimagining Justice with Children and Young People’. Using a model grounded in the 7 principles of the Scottish Approach to Service Design (SAtSD), ‘Reimagining Justice’ involves us working closely with organisations and local authorities, and those who use the services, during a three-phase process: Discovery and Define; Develop and Deliver; and Evaluation.

Children, young people and managers are all placed together at the heart of the process, with a flexible approach that encourages participants to access it in a way that works best for their needs.

It is our hope and ambition that this bold and innovative approach will:

  • Encourage truly relationship-based services, incorporating and reflecting a human and children’s rights approach demonstrating how children, young people and families can be meaningfully involved through service design alongside professionals and organisational priorities
  • Lead to Scotland having no children in adult courts
  • Assist with the redesign of secure care to remove all children from Young Offenders’ Institutes
  • Support the residential care workforce through training and development to reduce the criminalisation of children in care
  • Allow access to specialist consultation such as service design professionals alongside
    trauma-informed CYCJ expertise and skills

There’s a long road to travel, and much to discover along the way, both about ourselves, the people we are undertaking this with, and the processes. But we’re making progress, testing our service with a local authority who is moving through the three phases, and giving us positive feedback that we are using to shape and improve ‘Reimagining Justice’. Key to this process is how we learn from each other, it’s something that is being done ‘with’ the service user’ and not ‘to’ – an approach that underpins our very ethos as a centre.

As long as the change needs to happen to Keep The Promise, we’ll be doing the work to support it – and reimagining a future where change is realistic and lasting.

Are you interested in finding out more about ‘Reimagining Justice?’ 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.

About our blogger

As Director, Fiona leads CYCJ towards its ambition of ensuring that Scotland’s approach to children and young people in conflict with the law is rights-respecting, contributing to better outcomes for children, young people and communities. This involves supporting professionals from all disciplines who work with children and young people on the cusp of or involved in offending by promoting best practice based on up-to-date evidence and research. Find out more about Fiona.


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Children's and Young People's Centre for Justice
University of Strathclyde
Lord Hope Building, Level 6
141 St. James Road Glasgow G4 0LT

(0141) 444 8622

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