In 2019, CYCJ created a Youth Justice in Scotland page on Knowledge Hub, to help practitioners better access, share and discuss resources. Creator Donna McEwan explains why there was a need for it, the benefits of information sharing – and why we’re all in it together.
Here at CYCJ, we’re often asked by practitioners working with children in conflict with the law for programmes or intervention materials. However, I must confess that we don’t have a wee production line of individualised programmes ready to lift and drop into work with children, as nice as that would be. I remember being ‘that’ social worker trying to find things to use in my work, whether it was parenting work or with individuals on beliefs, values and attitudes, or anger management. Google became my best friend (a word of caution when looking for resources regarding harmful sexual behaviour as your computer telling you “access is denied” may result in a query from the IT department as to exactly why you are using certain search terms). Despite my best efforts, there was never a perfect intervention, never one ‘golden programme’ that fitted the individual or family I was working with – either it was too wordy, too complex, or (to put it in a way that us Scots will understand) ‘pure mince’.
I did what we all do – asking colleagues via a shout across the office “has anyone got stuff they use to explore emotions for a 15 year old that has a level of understanding of a younger child of about 12 years? Or, has anyone got really good stuff on drugs that a 17 year old will not look at and run for the hills, or on sexual feeling and behaviours?” Despite everyone’s best efforts, I never really felt I got the answers I was looking for. It was frustrating, time consuming and not terribly productive.
So where are these magical intervention materials, do they even exist and how can we get them without having to become certified as a trainer and/or pay hefty fees for access? Again, I return to Google, colleagues and materials kicking round the office. For a long time I was so dependent on these materials I think I missed the point that actually, I was the resource. The bits of paper and the session guides were part of my toolkit to engage and they helped give me a structure to my interventions. I know that for some people that bit of paper was really helpful as it allowed the focus to be on the paper and not them; for others it just was too much for many different reasons. I was never trained to deliver a certain programme, but I was trained to engage with people, to assess and try to work out what would be helpful to shift ways of thinking and understanding – Social Work 101, I suppose!
As a result, every time we get a request at CYCJ for programmes or materials that people can use, my brain scrambles as to what can I remember and what is still relevant now. When I worked in East Ayrshire and we started delivering our own Diversion from Prosecution Scheme for 16-17 year olds, I was generously provided with access to the interventions that had been created and used by the pan-Ayrshire scheme, which gave me a huge starting point. This was shared and described as a creative and flexible programme with lots of different materials that had been built up over time, allowing them to adapt these to the individual needs of young people. The materials were based on evidence regarding what makes interventions effective, but were not a set programme that had been validated and researched.
This gave me the seed of an idea which grew during my time at CYCJ. What if we had some kind of space offering a wide variety of different resources that might be helpful for practitioners in their work with young people and their families? These could include harmful sexual behaviour, understanding emotions and regulation, decision making, anxiety, relationships, substance misuse…you get the idea. A place where people can go and check out what’s available, decide for themselves whether it’s appropriate and then use this in a way that works for their individual cases. And what if it could also be a place for people to easily upload content they’ve come across for others to use, and a forum to ask peers questions, discuss practice and develop networking links?
The rest, as they say, is history. In August 2019, we created a Youth Justice in Scotland page on the Knowledge Hub, the UK’s largest digital platform for public service collaboration. We started populating it with content and invited others to do the same.
It’s important to note that we set this page up to be shaped by its users. It was never intended as a CYCJ led directory; we wanted Scotland’s youth justice practitioners to feel they have a stake in it too. This means that all users are responsible for copyright issues and sharing permissions, and uploading content does not equal an endorsement. After all, it’s only going to be as good as what is added to it. And that’s down to all of us.
It’s still early days, and I’m not yet confident as to whether it’s genuinely helpful or just a thing in my head that isn’t useful for anyone else. We’re in the process of working out the best way to share and promote this more widely, encourage people to use it and gather feedback on how it can be improved. I created Youth Justice in Scotland with the hope that it would take on a life of its own and grow as more people become familiar with it and use it in a way that enhances their work. Most importantly, I envisioned our Hub page as a practical tool that can help practitioners do their job. I direct people to it whenever I am asked if I have/can recommend a programme or materials that can be used with young people, and really hope that people are finding what they need.
It’s free and easy to sign up to (just search for Youth Justice in Scotland) it makes no demands of you and it just might help the next time you’re undertaking what feels like (yet another) futile attempt to search for the ‘right’ materials, if you’re scratching your head over a tricky issue or if you have something amazing that you just know will benefit others in their work.
Finally, please get in touch to let me know what you think of it, and what we could be doing better. After all, the future of Youth Justice in Scotland is in your hands!
About our blogger
Donna McEwan is Practice Development Advisor at CYCJ. Find out more.