The exceptional impact of COVID-19 on the youth justice system will be documented in a new partnership project between the Standing Committee for Youth Justice (SCYJ) and Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU).
The project aims to understand the unprecedented implications that the pandemic has had on the system and the vulnerable children it works with. This marks the first collaboration between the SCYJ, an alliance of over 60 not-for-profit organisations working to improve the youth justice system in England and Wales, and the Manchester Centre for Youth Studies at MMU, a research centre underpinned by the ethos of creating youth informed and youth led research and policy.
Although COVID-19 will have a societal effect on all young people, a disproportionate number of children in the youth justice system have complex needs, are from minority ethnic backgrounds, have been excluded from school and have been exposed to adverse childhood experiences, and so it is expected the impacts of COVID-19 are likely to be worse for this group. Last year, there were over 60,000 arrests of children, with an average of around 860 children in custody at any one time.
The project will pool the expertise of SCYJ’s network of members and sector partners across England and Wales, to develop insight and recommendations for policy and practice. It also builds on MCYS’ strong partnerships within the youth justice system developed through the award-winning Greater Manchester Youth Justice University Partnership (GMYJUP), a collaboration between MCYS and the ten regional Greater Manchester youth justice services.
Researchers will explore the impact of COVID-19 on justice-involved children’s service provision, education, employment and wellbeing, how professionals have had to adapt to remote working, the impact of the delay of criminal trials and the safety of children in custodial settings.
Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) as part of the UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to COVID-19, findings and recommendations from the 18-month project will be shared widely with practitioners and decision-makers to shape policy and practice.
Pippa Goodfellow, Director of the Standing Committee for Youth Justice (SCYJ) said:
“In this unprecedented public health emergency, the youth justice sector is working intensively through the many challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“There are immediate and long-term implications for all children and young people in our communities, particular challenges for those in the youth justice system, and exceptionally critical risks for children in custody.
“We are delighted to be collaborating with MMU on this important project, bringing our research and policy expertise together, to shine a light on the impact of the pandemic for justice-involved children and the systems and services supporting them.”
Professor Smithson, Head of the Manchester Centre for Youth Studies (MCYS) at Manchester Metropolitan University said:
“The youth justice system is facing a strange hiatus; on the one hand, criminal trials have been delayed and arrests are down, while on the other, existing issues of BAME disproportionality, mental health, domestic abuse and school engagement are areas of acute risk for justice-involved children.
“There is an urgent need to develop a clear understanding of the impact of the pandemic on these children and those who work with them.
“By involving and working with children in our project, we will address the usual top-down research hierarchies inherent in youth justice research and ensure that children’s voices are prioritised.”
The research will involve interviews and surveys of statutory partners, including the Youth Justice Board and Ministry of Justice, third sector organisations, senior national policy and decision-makers, and children with lived experiences.