Postgraduate research opportunities PhD Law: Child friendly justice systems


Key facts

  • Opens: Monday 22 November 2021
  • Deadline: Monday 25 April 2022
  • Number of places: 1
  • Duration: 3 years
  • Funding: Home fee, Stipend


The Institute for Inspiring Children’s Futures Doctoral Research Centre (DRC) is focussing unwaveringly on ‘Achieving the Well-being of Children in the COVID-19 Recovery Decade’. Driven by the UN Sustainable Development Goals, this DRC aims to generate new knowledge, and apply this effectively in policy, professional practice environments, and the settings in which children live their lives.
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Prospective applicants should:

  • hold a strong undergraduate degree in a relevant discipline at 2:1 (or equivalent) or better
  • hold a Masters’ degree (or equivalent) in a broadly relevant discipline
  • demonstrate an interest in, and knowledge of, a global outlook and a real world impact for children
  • demonstrate the ability to undertake independent research
  • have an interest in acquiring and/or further developing skills in translation of research into policy
  • additionally, candidates who are not native English speakers will be required to provide evidence for their English skills (such as by IELTS or similar tests approved by UKVI, or a degree completed in an English speaking country)
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Project Details

The following Principles underpin the DRC’s Work Programme:

  • founded in the global frameworks of:
    • the UN Agenda 2030 and the SDGs, and notably SDG 16
    • the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)
    • the Justice for Children, Justice for All Ten Challenges
  • grounded in a sound theoretical and conceptual framework; based on data and evidence; and providing real world applied insights and value
  • informed by, and contributing to, global experience and knowledge
  • contributing to the effective implementation of programmes to advance the well-being of children
  • embracing participatory and partnership elements

The DRC will hold several key attributes:

  • the DRC draws together world-class scholars to study across disciplines, on complex problems that require the insights from multiple perspectives
  • it is multi-disciplinary, with doctoral students working together on common questions as a mutually supportive and joint cluster of PhDs
  • it explicitly advances the University vision to promote cross-University collective scholarship, by building on the immense potential for joint engagement and for the joint analysis of the critical societal challenges
  • DRC Doctoral students engage in the global challenge questions of how best to realise SDG 16, and in particular children’s well-being, around the world
  • they also draw together those across the campus who are working to achieve children’s well-being from multiple perspectives, learning from each other and sparking innovations and ideas
  • the research themes are drawn together to form a complementary and coherent set of studentships’ research questions; that is, the overall Research Programme explicitly reflects the highly integrated and dependent nature of the children’s well-being, economic and governance perspectives, and the criticality of bringing these perspectives together in a coherent focussed manner
  • supervision is collectively undertaken, with both a systematic supervision of each individual, as well as a less formal supervision of the cluster as a whole, drawing on a broader set of experts from both the academic and practitioner worlds. These include academic experts and individuals with experience of real-world policy and implementation

For more detail on the overall Research Programme and how these studentships fit into the bigger programme of work, please see Inspiring Children's Futures Centre for Doctoral Training.

Project on child friendly justice systems

This #ICFDRC studentship is hosted in partnership with the Strathclyde  Centre for Sustainable Development; and the Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice at the University of Strathclyde; with support from the Scottish Government; and aligned with our partner, the Pathfinders for Justice, hosted by New York University.

The Key Focus of the Doctoral Studentship in Law

Children’s interactions with formal justice systems remains an immense problem throughout the world in both high- and lower-income countries. Few nations uphold the globally agreed rights of children in this respect, and this is a major element in reducing children’s well-being and their prospects and opportunities for the future.

Justice for children is critical, but so too is the justice that can preclude children ever coming into contact with the legal system in the first place: that is, the upstream social and economic justice that can prevent a child’s journey bringing them into these highly challenging and problematic circumstances.

The Children who Form the Focus of the Project

Children may come into contact with the law and justice systems as victims, witnesses, and offenders or a combination of all, or because of other reasons where judicial, state, administrative or non-state adjudicatory intervention is required because of decisions regarding their well-being, custody, care or protection. In these instances, children require child-friendly, child-centred justice systems that are specialised, meeting their needs when children are in conflict with the law as well as preventing future injustice by ensuring access to justice for children when their rights are violated.

Justice systems and related processes and services must therefore be differentiated and specialised, developed in accordance with internationally agreed guiding principles and guidance so that
children’s needs, rights and capacities can be fully respected. For children, justice is not solely about children’s interaction with the formal legal system – and indeed the informal justice systems - but also about their fundamental access to equal opportunities, notably through a fairand equal access to the range of services beyond formal justice, such as health and education. It therefore encompasses economic, social, environmental and cultural justice too.

This project is concerned particularly with those children whose needs are not met, and whose access to meaningful opportunities and rights are not upheld and for whom there is profound and sustained injustice.
Importantly, there is a particular focus on those children who, for various reasons, may be ‘hidden’ children – made invisible by adults and the authorities around them – and the challenge of how to identify them. That is, those children who are most likely to be ‘left behind’.

Defining the Challenge to be Addressed by the Project

For children who come into contact with the justice system on offence grounds, the criminalisation and penalisation of children in most situations creates more problems than brings solutions. This is exacerbated by the wide range of definitions of “child” across the world, with many nations failing to observe the United Nations obligation to see children as those of less than 18 years of age, with critical implications for their age of responsibility. Such policies bring children into a judicial system that damages them and pushes them
into more criminal behaviour. There are also gendered dimensions. With girls, criminalisation is disproportionally linked to morality while with boys, it is associated with cultural constructs of masculinity such as anti-social behaviour.

Children’s involvement in justice systems often results in children being stigmatised and discriminated against by society, and can hinder their development and participation in education and employment on the path to adulthood. Children who are older can be seen as troublesome, difficult, or worse, ignoring their status as children and their need for support and protection. This can result in a blurring of which systems and processes are appropriate for children, and which ones for adults. For example, children whose age cannot be ‘proven’ - children with no formal identity - can end up in adult justice systems. In these instances, children can be detained in adult prisons or be subject to adult court systems even though this is not in accord with international treaties and guidance and is a denial of children’s human rights.

These strategies are counterproductive. They can entrench offending behaviours instead of contributing to rehabilitation and reintegration into society. Children are more vulnerable to the negative psychological impacts of harsh punitive measures. The majority of children’s challenging behaviours can be resolved and addressed without the need for punitive intervention or involvement of justice systems.

Taking a different approach by using diversionary and upstream preventive mechanisms avoids the danger of trapping children in a pattern or culture of offending behaviour. It recognises the particular vulnerabilities of children who offend.

Educational systems, health systems, alongside family and community strengthening efforts, are key components of an integrated child-centred system which delivers justice in all the many forms noted above. Integrated child protection services which focus on the wellbeing of children and their families have the potential, along with other specialised approaches, to support children and help bring about changes in their behaviour, helping children to assume a constructive role in society which is in everyone’s interest.

By supporting children upstream in securing their familial and personal well-being before there is an increased risk of coming them into contact with the law, and by supporting them through services, family and community support, therapeutic interventions and non-custodial responses, short- and long-term costs to individual children, their families, communities and the State will be significantly reduced. These costs, and the benefits, are economic as well as social and cultural. In the longer term, these costs bring lifelong benefits for all, as children become adults and therefore economic contributors to society – and less of a cost to society than otherwise would have been the case - as well as parents of the next generation themselves.

Taking the Project Forward:

A trans-disciplinary approach is needed to generate the evidence that takes into account the complexity of the problem, and the necessary solutions.

Our knowledge of how to address this – and the critical evidence that must underpin this understanding – is inadequate, or focussed on a very partial analysis of the problems that overlooks the complexity that
a trans-disciplinary approach can provide. The central questions for this project will therefore include:

  • What are the determinants and character of the current challenges to justice for children, that seriously and directly threaten children’s well-being?
  • How can this evidence and analysis be brought to bear on the identification of evidence-based policy and programmes that address both the critical preventative and mitigative perspectives?
  • How can these be effectively implemented, what are the
    facilitative factors and how can we overcome the barriers?
  • How can evidence of the social and economic value and impact of better policy and implementation to both the child and the wider society contribute to the securing of political commitment?

In addressing these questions, this doctoral research project aims to provide the evidence for better global policy-making, which further enables the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals for children. This project’s association with the Institute for Inspiring Children’s Futures’ international organisational partners will enable immediate, eager and highly facilitative routes to impact.

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Funding details

Fully-funded DRC studentships cover Home (UK) fees and a stipend for living costs of circa £15,285 (full time) per annum for the duration of three years.

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Dr Vaswani

Dr Nina Vaswani

Senior Research Fellow
Children and Young People's Centre for Justice

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For more detail on the overall Research Programme and how this studentship fit into the bigger programme of work, please see Inspiring Children's Futures Centre for Doctoral Training.

Please submit your application with the following documents as email attachments to Graduate School at, with subject line "ICF Doctoral Research Centre – PhD Law Scholarship", by 5pm on 25 April 2022:

  1. A proposal outlining the PhD project (max. three pages incl. references) based on the focused themes above
  2. An academic curriculum vitae
  3. Degree transcripts
  4. Two academic reference letters

Applications will be ranked by a selection panel and shortlisted applicants will be notified by 5 May 2022.

Interviews will take place in the last week of May 2022, with the studentship starting 1 October 2022.

There is flexibility with this start date.

Success at interview is not necessarily acceptance of the research topic.

Research topics will be open for further discussion, to enable coherence across all studentships working together in this DCR.

Candidates who are successful at interview will then be asked to complete the University’s online application form and submit their degree certificates and English language qualification (if required).

Number of places: 1

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Contact us

Professor Jennifer Davidson,