‘Walking the walk’ – Participation and Engagement at CYCJ

Change is happening in Scotland’s care and justice systems – and increasingly, this is being driven by children and young people. As CYCJ publishes its first Participation and Engagement Strategy, Ross Gibson explains why we decided to ‘cede power to those who knows what works’ and encourages others to do the same.

Over the past two years several organisations and movements have shown the value of featuring the voice of those with lived experience. The Promise wove together thousands of voices of care experienced children and adults, resulting in conclusions being reached as to how best Scotland should respond to children who come into conflict with the law.  STARR co-produced national standards that will shape the way in which children who encounter the highest levels of risk are supported before, during, and after their time within the secure environment.  Youth Justice Voices, meanwhile, have made a significant contribution to the way in which the justice systems respond to children and young people, influencing policy and practice, winning commendations from the Howard League and having fun whilst doing it.

At CYCJ we recognise the paradigm-shifting role that these groups have had in their various fields, and are eager to ensure that this happens more and more often.  When we realised that we needed a strategy to help guide how we were going to make this happen, we took the decision to seek out experts in the field of participation for children who have come into conflict with the law.  We decided to cede power to those who know what works and what doesn’t, making sure CYCJ didn’t just talk the talk, but walked the walk.

Headed by the indefatigable Beth-Anne Logan, a small group of young people with experience of previous participation projects and of CYCJ co-produced a participation and engagement strategy which we at CYCJ are confident will lead to the voices of those we seek to support having greater influence.

More than just listening to those with experience of the justice systems, the authors suggested a range of ways in which CYCJ and our partners could provide opportunities for people to develop skills, relationships and experiences that would help them to develop their own CV.  For example, the coming months will see the children and young people who we currently engage with be offered the opportunity to learn IT, communication and finance skills from members of the centre’s admin and finance team.  Recruitment procedures will also reflect this change, with young people forming part of our interview panels.  These are just small examples of the range of opportunities organisations such as CYCJ can easily provide, and which your organisation will likely have to hand too.

At strategic level, the coming months will see CYCJ proactively recruit people who have had personal experience of the justice systems, as well as holding other personal qualities and skills that will help push CYCJ forward, to our Executive Governance Group. Later on this year, research will be designed, undertaken, analysed and disseminated by children and young people.  By doing so we can create opportunities not just to influence the direction CYCJ is heading in, but to join us on that journey whilst developing their own skills and confidence along the way.

I believe the authors have created a bold and ambitious strategy which puts those with lived experiences at its core.  Built upon on Professor Laura Lundy’s fantastic model of participation, our strategy will seek to: facilitate and amplify voices, create a space to be listened to, assemble an audience of those in power, and encourage due influence to be given to the views expressed.

To achieve that, we are delighted to have recruited two new colleagues who will help build on the work that CYCJ have done over the past seven years.  Lizzie and Wendy both bring with them different skills which will be put to good use as we deliver this ambitious strategy.  In addition to partnering to drive forward greater presence of participation and engagement, each of them have particular roles. Wendy will dedicate time to support the STARR project, seeking to provide opportunities for those with experience of secure care to shape and influence policy and practice.  Lizzie will seek to develop CYCJ’s work with the 12-16 year old group, with whom it has been more challenging to connect.  But they can’t do that by themselves.

If you are reading this and have had experience of secure care, please get in touch.  There is a supported, curated space for you where you can contribute to making things different for those children who are in most need.  Similarly, if you are under 26 and have experience of the justice systems we’d love to hear from you.  There are a number of projects that we would like to tell you about, and we would love to help find an audience for your voice.

Ultimately, we want our partners across local authority, residential, secure, custodial, hospital and third sector settings to get in touch and to make use of their expertise and this opportunity to collaborate on shaping policy and practice.  Your position and power as gatekeepers is essential if CYCJ are to realise the ambitions set out for us by the authors of our strategy, and if Scotland is to respect the rights of children in conflict with the law.  So open your doors, invite us to meet the children and young people you engage with and let us support you to #KeepThePromise.

If you want to support the delivery of the CYCJ participation and engagement strategy and help those with experience of the justice systems to influence change please get in touch with Ross at ross.a.gibson@strath.ac.uk.

About our blogger

Ross Gibson is Practice Development Advisor for CYCJ. His focus of work includes young people’s participation in youth justice services, community alternatives to custody and secure care, youth justice input within higher and further education and identifying examples of creative practice.

Image credit: Youth Justice Voices

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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

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