Words of wisdom from 2019

January – a month of transitions, and the perfect time to reflect back on the year that has passed. In his blog Ross Gibson does just this, focusing on the brave, honest and inspiring blogs written in 2019 for CYCJ by people with experience of the care and justice systems.  

January is named after Janus; the Roman god of beginnings, passages, transitions and endings. Customs attached to the first day of January include exchanging of figs, honey and dates, as well as messages of good wishes and cheer. In Scotland it has officially been the start of the New Year since 1600, and is traditionally a time to reflect upon successes and challenges of the previous year, and make plans for the year to come. So, Happy New Year to you all!

Throughout 2019, we’ve continued to feature blogs by people with lived experience of the justice and care systems, and I’d like to thank everyone for their willingness to share raw and emotive information, the quality of their writing, and for their bravery in committing words to (virtual) paper. I’ll reflect back on the blogs that we have published over the past year, and hope that these words of wisdom may inspire you in the months ahead (apologies for the lack of figs, honey and dates).

As you will see, the importance of relationships was central to most of our 2019 blogs. I know that this has also featured heavily in the work of the Independent Care Review, and am keen to see how that translates into tangible, concrete changes for all children and young people in Scotland.

The first blog of the year highlighted the realities of growing up in residential child care, where the pressure of increased scrutiny and the presence of police officers in your home can lead to distressed behaviours such as running away and vandalism. I found this really helpful when delivering training as part of the Dumfries & Galloway pilot project which aims to reduce unnecessary criminalisation of children within residential child care.

In our first ‘lived experience blog’ from outwith Scotland, Andi and Luke from the Leeds based CARE group highlighted the steps they have taken to make it a child friendly city. Drawing on their personal knowledge of the justice systems, they’ve worked with corporate parents to tackle issues such as the unnecessary criminalisation of children within residential child care; something which CYCJ has been working on over the past few years and which I am sure will feature in the forthcoming Independent Care Review. Key in the work of CARE has been building on relationships to affect positive change.

Similarly, Marie spoke of the importance that forming relationships with people who had also come into contact with the justice systems has had upon improving her mental wellbeing. Unhappy times had led to her experiencing loneliness, but thankfully a space to be herself, to build relationships and to feel connected has enabled her to progress with her studies. The subjects of loneliness and stigma was echoed by Jeri, whose words might give some confidence and comfort to anyone who is considering discussing their care history with friends. Fortunately for her, things worked out well, but isn’t it a shame that the stigma of having experience of the care system continues?

Youth Just Us member Jade produced two great blogs in 2019, one of which discussed the role that corporate parenting can play in developing positive relationships, whilst challenging the very language of the phrase itself. Loving relationships and the issues related to them was discussed by recently graduated Social Worker Rosie, who – like Jade – acknowledged the uncomfortable language that the word implies. These blogs helped me to develop my thinking on the subject, and I suppose that whatever word we use to describe the relationship between ‘worker’ and ‘young person’, we need to ensure it is one that makes the recipient feel cared for, respected, hopeful and safe.

The theme of relationships also featured in this piece by Bernie and Charlie of the Why Not? Trust, who took the chance to blog about the newly launched Right to Relationship Charter, and invited anyone who shared these beliefs to sign up. Given the importance of a rights-based approach to practice, I was pleased that CYCJ was quick to do just that. Perhaps signing up could be your New Year’s resolution?

Contact with the justice systems not only impacts upon the person who is accused of criminal behaviour, but their families too. I was delighted that CYCJ was able to provide a platform for family members to express their thoughts on what helped – and didn’t – during their respective journeys. Elizabeth continued our theme of the importance of relationships, when she reflected on her son’s experience of living with High Functioning Autism, as well as the need for timely diagnosis and support. Louise made similar points, reflecting on the frustrations she and her family felt when seeking support from education and mental health services. The impact of limited support and bullying was clear in both of these blogs, and chimed with work produced by Nina Vaswani during 2019.

The lack of support at school highlighted by Louise contrasted with Jade’s experiences in her first blog of 2019. A community spirit, safe spaces to express oneself and evidence of reflective and responsive listening were all highlighted as beneficial features of her time at school.

Also within the school arena, CYCJ published a beautifully illustrated blog by a group of Primary 4 pupils suggesting ways in which they could build resilience, improve wellbeing and ensure inclusion. Their clear and concise messages will surely assist any young person encountering difficulties, and go some way towards CYCJ’s ambition of creating environments that deliver Inclusion as Prevention. A key component of inclusion is ensuring that young people have their voice heard, with Ally providing a blog calling on more people with experience of the justice systems to take part in participation projects, which he hoped would change the way that people with convictions are dealt with. On that note, 2019 saw the creation and inaugural year of Youth Justice Voices, with Ally’s comments echoing the ambitions of its members. If you want to know more, please get in touch.

2019 saw a number of policy and legislative changes which could have a significant impact upon the lives of those who come into conflict with the law. In June, the Cabinet Secretary for Justice announced the end of routine body searching of under 18s in custody. Shortly after, CYCJ published an anonymous blog from a young person who’d experienced such procedures, highlighting the loss of dignity associated with removing one’s clothing. They illustrated exactly why such a change was needed, leading to the particularly pertinent question: “surely an establishment can uphold human dignity, personhood, and humanity whilst maintaining security?”

The Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill was passed in 2019, with David outlining why an increase to 12 would not go far enough, asking “when exactly are we old enough to be responsible for our actions?” In another blog by Marie, she considered the precarious, vulnerable position of those who are 16 and 17, but not subject to Compulsory Supervision Orders. She shared experiences of the way ‘adult’ services responded to her in time of need, and thereafter slipping through the net. Both of these blogs reaffirmed my belief that Scotland’s concrete and arbitrary definition of childhood – particularly when a child comes into conflict with the law – is outdated. So, as we enter 2020, I wonder if this year will see improvements to the way we respond to children in such situations. Could the Children’s Hearing System be open to everyone under the age of 18? Will incorporation of UNCRC mean all children are treated as children? What will come from the Independent Care Review? As with Janus, 2020 could be a year of beginnings, passages, transitions and endings, but only if we take the opportunity to make the changes that are needed.

You can read more about 2018’s blogs here.

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.

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