NewsCYCJ launches 'Thinking About Justice' child led research

Children feel that justice should create an opportunity to learn from mistakes, get access to support, and lead to everyone having a second chance, according to new creative research by the Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice (CYCJ).

‘Thinking About Justice’, which explored children’s understanding, experiences of, and aspirations for, justice in Scotland, found that children often felt powerless and judged in their own experiences of justice – and highlighted the important role adults play in creating both just and unjust experiences.

The research, which was commissioned and funded by the Scottish Government, also reports that children’s aspirations for justice include the voices of all children and young people being heard, increasing access to support and services, and ensuring equal and better treatment for everyone.

Thirty-two children participated in online and face-to-face youth-led workshops, with an open approach that encouraged the children to raise the issues that were important to them, using a variety of innovative and arts-based methods.

Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans, Keith Brown, who visited CYCJ on the day of the launch, said:

“I welcome the publication of this report and would like to thank the young people who took part in this research. It’s so important that children are supported to participate in the justice process, and engage in decisions which affect them. What is clear from this report is that the voices of children and young people must be heard to ensure we shape services and supports which meet their needs.

“The findings of the report align with our vision for a rights-respecting approach to youth justice, which places a strong emphasis on the rights of the child and promotes participation of young people.”

Key themes of ‘Thinking About Justice’ include:

  • Whilst many children support traditional philosophies of punishment, they perceive rehabilitation to be the most significant aspect of justice, with a clear recognition of the underlying causes of offending behaviour. They believe the sanctity of childhood should be prioritised when considering punishment.
  • Trusted, respectful and child-centred relationships are important in ensuring a child’s access to justice is fully supported
  • Children feel they are victims of unjustified surveillance (being watched or followed) and often are pre-emptively warned about causing trouble
  • Gender plays an important role in personal experiences of justice for both sexes, based on acceptable gendered traits. Girls in particular felt forced to change their behaviour to avoid misogyny and gender-based violence – which were viewed as being an ‘expected’ part of growing up.
  • For some children there is a deep mistrust and dissent for formal processes of justice. This group viewed alternative, informal, community-based systems of justice as fairer and more effective.

Findings from this research are available in a variety of formats, including a full report, a summary animation and a child-friendly version which was illustrated by a young person. Workshop resources will also be available for groups who may want to continue to help CYCJ build an understanding of children and young people’s thoughts, experiences and aspirations for justice.

CYCJ’s Director, Fiona Dyer, said:

“Building a truly rights-respecting justice system in Scotland requires an understanding of children and young people’s conceptualisation of justice, which is why we undertook this research.

“That children and young people experience justice differently to adults is not surprising to hear, given that conceptions and the implementation of justice have been almost exclusively developed and designed through the eyes and needs of adults. There are opportunities for children and young people to influence change in the justice system. However, this tends to focus on aspects of the system, or processes, rather than conceptualisations of justice.

“The focus on rehabilitation was encouraging, as it suggests that children may be supportive of the significant development in sentencing guidelines for young people, which prioritises rehabilitation as a central aspect of the judicial process. In addition, the children’s desire to be heard in issues that are important to them has significant implications for The Promise, UNCRC incorporation, and aspirations for a rights-respecting youth justice system.

“As Scotland moves further towards alternative approaches to traditional justice and punishment, it is our hope that these findings will play a significant role in improving outcomes for children and young people who come into conflict with the law, and all those affected.”

This research was commissioned and funded by the Scottish Government’s Justice Analytical Services, under their call for research on ‘Understanding and taking action to improve people’s experience of justice’.

Findings and the research report, written by Dr Fern Gillon, were shared at an online launch event on April 20.