SCYJ Youth Justice Young Advocates Project Update

Amania Scott-Samuels, our Policy and Engagement Assistant, shares an exciting update about our Youth Justice Young Advocates project and opportunities to get involved

At the SCYJ we have wanted to develop opportunities for youth participation in our work for a long time. In recent years, in consultation with an member expert group on participation, we developed a participation strategy, which included plans for our first youth participation project.

From this, the Young Advocates project was created, thanks to the generous support of Children in Need. The name of the project was intended to encourage embodiment of the advocacy role beyond the group’s meetings, within each young participant’s community and wider society.

Thank you to all those that were involved in the consultation, planning and recruitment stages, we could not have done this without you!

What is the Young Advocates project?

The Young Advocates project, graciously funded by Children in Need and in partnership with Leaders Unlocked offers young people between 14-20 who have youth justice experience a chance to:

  • Become representatives for children and young people across the country as ‘Young Advocates’ for youth justice improvement
  • Comment on important policy topics
  • Gain and develop leadership, research, presentation and critical thinking skills
  • Conduct peer research about the youth justice system with other young people across the country with similar experiences
  • Collaborate with and feedback to justice sector professionals and decision makers
  • Receive a number of AQA accredited qualifications in areas of leadership and social research
  • Take part in shadowing, mentoring or other workplace insight related to their personal interests or career aspirations

We wanted to make sure the project was youth-led from the outset, with the Young Advocates identifying the areas of interest, methods of research and means of presenting their findings back to stakeholders. This focus on coproduction has been aided through the ongoing support at meetings from the Young Adult Advisors on Criminal Justice who also have experiences of the justice system and took part in a similar project with Leaders Unlocked.

We were delighted to recruit 15 Young Advocates over the Summer of 2020, despite the challenges posed by COVID-19. We have since established a core group of 8 young people who represent diverse backgrounds and experience and are from different parts of the country.

What have the Young Advocates been getting up to?

Developing peer research

Our first Young Advocates meeting in September was held online, where we got to know each other and talked about what works does and doesn’t currently work well in the youth justice system. In October’s meeting the Young Advocates identified three areas of interest that they will focus on until mid-2021 and the reasons why they are so important to them:

Jail – The Young Advocates feel ‘jail makes or breaks you’ and that there is a revolving door whereby young people keep ending up back in prison. Young people are not given enough information surrounding jail including about what transitioning from the youth to adult system will look like.

Stereotypes – The Young Advocates expressed concern about young people in general and particularly young people of colour being stereotyped too often and by everyone that they come in contact with. Police, courts and judges’ decisions seem to be impacted by their preconceived opinions.

Education and warning signs – The Young Advocates highlighted that teachers spend the most time with young people but do not know what it looks like when a young person is beginning to head down the wrong road. They shared that young people do not feel listened to by the adults in their life and end up being criminalised too quickly when they really need support.

The Young Advocates decided that they would like to engage with as many and as broader range of young people as possible, through a combination of workshops and one to one interviews. In our most recent sessions they designed research questions for each topic and took part in a session centred around developing social research skills, including how to create a safe space for sharing and how to facilitate productive discussions.

Influencing decision-making

We are also trying to identify ongoing opportunities for the Young Advocates to engage in current debates and share their expertise, and we are delighted that four of the Young Advocates have already attended landmark policy-influencing meetings:

  • In October, 2 Young Advocates attended a roundtable with Dame Carol Black and contributed key insights from their experiences and knowledge of their communities to be fed directly into her current drugs review.
  • In early November, 4 Young Advocates attended a roundtable with the Youth Endowment Fund centred around focusing efforts to reduce violence affecting young people.

Feedback on the input and insight of the Young Advocates has been extremely positive, with the Young Advocates themselves expressing pride and gratitude at the opportunity to share their narrative and speak on behalf of their communities. We will certainly continue to give them opportunities to do so.

What’s next?

  • In the coming weeks and months our Young Advocates will conduct peer research with young people across the country about their thoughts, feelings and experiences of the priority research topic areas.
  • The Young Advocates are on track to receive 6 entry-level AQA accredited qualifications by the end of the year which will culminate into a short presentation.
  • By the end of the project’s first phase – Spring 2021 – upon completion of the peer research and reflection on their findings, the Young Advocates will develop recommendations and feed them back to stakeholders. The Young Advocates will have demonstrated skills earning them up to 12 AQA accredited qualifications between entry-level and level 3.

Despite the many challenges presented by having to work remotely, we are incredibly proud of all the work of the Young Advocates so far, as well as their investment and commitment to the project. We can’t wait for you to hear more about what they discover in their research and their proposals for change.

If you have a network of young people you think our Young Advocates should talk to as part of their research or if you know a young person you think might want to join the Young Advocates project please contact amania@scyj.org.uk

More information about the project, what the Young Advocates will be getting up to and what can be gained from taking part is available here. You can also find out more by watching my original project presentation to our members here.