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News: Investment announced for new Bairns’ Hoose test sites across Scotland

Posted 02.06.23 by Alice Hinds

New funding has been announced to establish Bairns’ Hoose test sites across Scotland, providing “coordinated, comprehensive support under one roof” for children and young people in the justice system.

Informed by the Barnahus model, which was first developed in Iceland, local authorities, health boards, the Police and third sector organisations will partner to apply for a share of the new £6 million fund for 2023-24, establishing safe spaces where children, as victims and witnesses, can access a range of trauma-informed support.

Currently, according to Children 1st (click here for more), children involved in a crime may have to relive what has happened to them up to 14 times, speaking with different people in different settings, including police, social workers, doctors and nurses. Sometimes this happens without a family member or loved present, adding to the trauma of being a victim or witness of crime.

Implemented as a key action from The Promise (click here for more), and underpinned by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the Bairns’ Hoose model ensures therapeutic support, child protection, recovery and justice services are available in one place.

Available support will include Police and social work-led joint investigative interviews, including deployment of the new Scottish Child Interview Model, health and wellbeing assessments, and counselling services for both the child and wider family.

The fund is expected to enable five multi-agency test sites to be created, with learning providing a blueprint for a full pilot of Bairns’ Hoose in 2025.

Minister for Children, Young People and Keeping the Promise, Natalie Don said: “The creation of Bairns’ Hoose is a key action in Keeping the Promise and I would like to pay tribute to the determination and resilience to everyone who has contributed their expertise and time to help bring the Barnahus model to Scotland.

“The experiences of the children who will access Bairns’ Hoose are in many cases absolutely appalling and ones which nobody, let alone a child, should have to go through.

“This funding marks a significant step in the development of Bairns’ Hoose in Scotland, and offers us a chance to provide wrap around care, recovery and justice for children in a way which best responds to their trauma, needs and circumstances.”

Last year, Children in Scotland joined a partnership, led by Children 1st, calling for the development of a Barnahus model in Scotland, and our Manifesto for 2021-26 (click here for more) includes a call for political parties to commit to learning from the findings of the Scottish Barnahus pilot.

A drawing on a white background with the handwritten text 'Guilty vs. not guilty' in a black bubble with chains drawn next to it. There are other drawings cropped out of the frame.

News: New child-led research into justice in Scotland

Posted 22 April 2022, by Jennifer Drummond

Children think justice should create an opportunity to learn from mistakes and have a second chance, new research reveals.

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

The research from the Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice (CYCJ) reports children’s aspirations for justice include being heard, access to support and services, and equal and better treatment for everyone.

Commissioned and funded by the Scottish Government, CYCJ worked with 32 children in online and face-to-face youth-led workshops, encouraging children to raise issues that were important to them.

Research findings

Key themes emerging from the research include:

  • Support for traditional philosphies of punishment
  • Rehabilitation as the most significant aspect of justice, with a clear recognition of underlying causes of the offending behaviour
  • The desire for a protection of the sanctity of childhood
  • The importance of trusted, respectful and child-centred relationships in ensuring a child’s access to justice is fully supported
  • The role of gender, with girls in particular feeling forced to change behaviour to avoid misogyny or gender-based violence.

Children also shared their feelings of being victims of unjustified surveillance (being watched or followed) and pre-emptive warnings about causing trouble.

They also shared a deep mistrust and dissent for formal processes of justice, viewing alternative, informal, community-based systems of justice as fairer and more effective.

Ensuring young people’s experiences are shared

Fiona Dyer, Director of the Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice said:

“Building a truly rights-respecting justice system in Scotland requires an understanding of children and young people’s conceptualisation of justice, which was 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 prioritise rehabilitation as a central aspect of the judicial process. In addition, the children’s desire to be heard in relation to 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.”

Launched on Wednesday 20 April, full research findings are available in a variety of formats including a full report, a summary animation and a child-friendly version.

Click here for more information

A graphic showing a man wearing a detective's hat and holding a magnifying glass over the 'State of Children's rights in Scotland by Together' report.

News: State of Children’s Rights report published

Posted 2 March 2022, by Nina Joynson

The annual State of Children's Rights report, published by Together, highlights challenges faced by the children's sector in implementing the UNCRC, and offers practical case studies on making children's human rights a reality in Scotland.

Today saw the publication of the 2022 State of Children’s Rights in Scotland report by Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights).

Developed to support public authorities, the third sector, organisations and individuals, Together hopes that the report ‘can serve as a roadmap…. as we strive towards creating a “gold standard” for children’s rights in Scotland’.

The annual review has monitored Scotland’s implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Child (UNCRC) since 2010, to examine whether enough is being done to make children’s human rights a reality.

Using data from seminar, survey and desk research, along with evidence from members’ policy and practice, State of Children’s Rights identifies common challenges, case studies of good practice and practical resources as we near the introduction of the UNCRC (Implementation) (Scotland) Bill.

Key findings

The report identifies seven key challenge areas faced by organisations and children:

  1. Child participation
    A gap between theory and practice in engaging young people in decision-making processes, with COVID-19 contributing to issues of access.
  2. Communication skills
    Challenges in communicating confidently with children, particularly disabled children and early years children.
  3. Data collection and monitoring
    External and internal issues in carrying out effective research, especially for those who are at an increased risk of having their rights breached.
  4. Raising awareness
    Challenges in expanding popular knowledge of children’s rights and the exclusion of at-risk groups, and a lack of funding opportunities to expand communication.
  5. Access to justice
    Difficulties in implementing proactive, preventative and reactive access to justice measures, in a system that is often inaccessible for children.
  6. Budgeting
    Confusion caused by differing terminology and models with regard to child rights budgeting.
  7. Child Rights Impact Assessments
    Extensive gaps in knowledge and understanding around CRIA, as well as poor access to data needed to complete the process.

The findings are supported by resources and case studies collected by Together, highlighting effective ways to diminish or overcome the challenges faced throughout the sector.

A number of Together’s member organisations contributed to the review. Children in Scotland featured in seven case studies, including examples such as the Participation through the Pandemic project (page 38), and developing a bespoke Child Rights Impact Assessment (CRIA) model (page 173).

Click here to read the report

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News: Co-created resource offers advice on navigating youth justice system

Posted 28 January, 2022 by Jennifer Drummond

A new website, launched by the Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice (CYCJ), is intended to help children, young people and families navigate the criminal justice system using the voices and experiences of young people.

‘Just the Right Space’ was co-created with young people who have experience of the justice and care system. It offers information and advice about the criminal justice system and what to expect, children’s rights, stories shared by those with experience of the justice and care systems and where to look for further support.

Reaching a wider audience

The intention is that the site will benefit a wide audience and will be especially of use to those who may not be familiar with the justice system.

Fiona Dyer, Director of CYCJ, said:

“We are excited to share this new website that we hope will help children, young people and those supporting them, better understand the justice system, who can help, and the rights they’re entitled to. CYCJ is committed to working with and not just for children and young in conflict with the law. Whilst this has included adapting our research into child-friendly formats, we are aware that our website is not accessible to those who may not have knowledge of the justice system and associated terminology.

“By working with young people from the very start of this creative process, we hope we have designed a website that will help a wider and younger audience understand what it is we do at CYCJ, why we do it, and access information that can help them with their journey through the journey system.”

Co-creation: ‘I wasn’t just a box-ticking exercise’

Paul was one of the people sharing his experience to help build the site. He said:

“Working on this project has been an interesting experience. Having the opportunity to share my ideas right from the start meant I felt fully involved and included, and reassured me that I wasn’t just being asked my views as part of a box-ticking exercise.

“More projects should be done like this – including young people with experience of the systems in the project from start to finish – as it means the result will be something that really works for young people, and not just what professionals think might work.”

Resources and support information

Along with the inclusion of first-hand experiences, the new website includes a number of resources, including adaptations of CYCJ’s ground-breaking research on children’s rights in the justice system and the UNCRC, as well guides to the Scottish justice system and young people’s rights in custody.

It also signposts to groups people can get involved with to influence change in the justice and care system and organisations offering support.

Click here to visit the Just the Right Space website 

CYCJ is keen to receive any feedback on the website, including anything that is missing or needs to change. 

Silhouette of a person with long hair looking at a blue sky with clouds

News: Minimum age of criminal responsibility legislation fully commenced

Posted 17 December, 2021 by Jennifer Drummond

Today marks the full commencement of the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019 meaning children under the age of 12 years old can no longer be charged or arrested.

The Act was passed unanimously by the Scottish Parliament in May 2019, received Royal Assent in June 2019 and has been implemented in stages.

Speaking in 2019, then Children's Minister Maree Todd, said:

“We can be proud that Scotland is leading the way in the UK. This new law means that no child under 12 will ever again be arrested or charged with an offence in Scotland. But the Bill also ensures that serious harmful behaviour will be investigated appropriately, and victims will continue to get the support they need.”

The Act also places a statutory duty on the Scottish Ministers to provide guidance to Police Scotland on the use of a place of safety, provide a list of places of safety and provide statutory guidance on the investigative interview.

Scottish ministers have a duty to establish a register of child interview rights practitioners (ChIRPs) who will provide advice, support and assistance to children with their involvement in investigative interviews. A Code of Practice sets out the national standards that apply to all ChIRPs, as implemented by the Act.

Whilst raising the age of criminal responsibility has been welcomed across the children’s sector, some components of the Act have been criticised by the Bruce Adamson, Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland.

Writing for Children in Scotland, he highlights the law means that Scotland’s age of criminal responsibility is still two years below the minimum international standard and draws attention to elements of the legislation which, he says, risk undermining children’s rights in relation to disclose, police powers and information sharing.

To support progress, and continual review of the legal minimum age of criminal responsibility, Scottish Ministers will continue to review the Act.

An advisory group, which includes Together, Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice, Scottish Children’s Report Administration, Social Work Scotland and Action for Children, has been established to support the review.

Click here to find out more about the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019

Click here to read the comment by Bruce Adamson, published on our pages yesterday (16 December)

A black and white image of a man looking at the camera from the chest up. He has short brown hair and is wearing a suit and tie.

Comment: Despite the increase in age of criminal responsibility we are still failing our children

Posted 16 December, 2021 by Jennifer Drummond

Thirty years since the UK ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) some children are still being left behind, writes Bruce Adamson (pictured)

Three decades ago the UK ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and Scotland continues to progress plans to incorporate it into domestic law.

However, at just eight years old, our age of criminal responsibility is still the lowest in the world.

Tomorrow, it will legally change to 12 years old, but that isn’t a cause for celebration. How can we celebrate a law that is still two years below the minimum international standard and is still failing children?

The Scottish Government has identified the change to mean “primary school-aged children will no longer be stigmatised from being labelled as offenders at such a young age, which will improve their life chances and wellbeing”. But, at 12 years old, we are still talking about children.

The UNCRC defines a child as up to 18. When did 12 become the age at which we stopped caring about stigmatising children, their life chances and wellbeing, or their rights?

Using the criminal law to address harmful behaviour by children is wrong. We know that maturity and the capacity for abstract reasoning is still evolving in children and rapid brain development affects risk-taking, decision-making and the ability to control impulses.

International evidence has found that early involvement in the criminal justice system increases the likelihood of a child continuing to engage in harmful behaviour. The best way to address this behaviour is early intervention, supporting families in crisis and children at risk.

Many children in conflict with the law have complex or traumatic childhood experiences, so we need community-based, early intervention services.

A low age of criminal responsibility does not keep us safer, nor does it provide an effective remedy for those affected by the behaviour of children.

But how can we celebrate when additional police powers in the law further undermine children’s rights?

In fact, the new law risks undermining children’s rights in relation to disclosure, police powers and information sharing.

It may have unintended consequences as police can hold information on the behaviour of all children under 12, not just those aged eight to 11 as before, without many of the checks and protections that currently exist.  We know that this can have a life-long impact on children.

We also need to remain cautious about provisions in the law on information sharing and children’s rights to privacy. It is understandable that those who are harmed by children’s behaviour may wish to know what has happened to that child. However, this is not proportionate.

And where does early criminalisation lead? How can we celebrate when we still imprison children under 18, sometimes simply because there isn’t a place in a secure unit available, in circumstances that breach their rights and can have tragic results. This is evidenced by recent work by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons for Scotland (HMIPS).

All this shows we are so far from the type of rights-respecting child justice system we committed to three decades ago.

And it’s not just children in conflict with the law who are being left behind. Covid has disproportionally affected children whose rights were already most at risk, including children living in poverty, disabled children, care experienced children, black and minority ethnic children, young carers, and children of prisoners. More children are in poverty, in need of mental health support and suffering bereavement.

As we mark 30 years of the UNCRC, we should be celebrating the commencement of the UNCRC law unanimously passed by the Scottish Parliament in March. A law which was fought for by children and young people to ensure rights are respected, protected and fulfilled. Yet ten weeks after the UK Supreme Court ruled that changes were required, we are still waiting for the Scottish Government to produce those amendments.

Every delay is another day that children don’t have their rights properly protected.

We spoke to the Scottish Government just last month and urged them to act. The government’s lack of transparency and continued delays raises some serious questions.

For 30 years children have been waiting, and they are still waiting. That’s nothing to celebrate.

Bruce Adamson is the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland

The Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Act 2019 will officially come into force on Friday 17 December, 2021 raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility in Scotland to 12 years old. 

The Commissioner has long been critical of Scotland’s approach to the age of  criminal responsibility. Click here to read the full position statement

A wooden gavel and block with two hardback books behind it

News: Postgraduate certificate on Children in Conflict with the Law launched

Posted 14 September, 2021 by Jennifer Drummond

The Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice (CYCJ) is introducing a new Postgraduate Cerificate on Children and Young People in Conflict with the Law, in conjunction with the University of Strathclyde.

The new course, which begins in January 2022, has been developed by CYCJ to provide a professional postgraduate qualification for those wishing to improve outcomes for young people who are in conflict with the law.

Whilst gaining a professional qualification from the University of Strathclyde, learners will gain a critical understanding of the issues surrounding children and young people in conflict with the law and will be better placed to implement changes in practice to respect children and young people’s rights and enable social justice.

CYCJ’S Interim Director, Fiona Dyer, said:

“We are delighted to introduce this course at CYCJ. Youth practitioners and managers ave told us they would welcome further training and support linked to their work with children and young people in conflict with the law. Scotland is at a crucial stage in its children’s rights journey with the upcoming implementation of the UNCRC. Through providing further education for professionals working with children and young people, we believe a positive difference will be made for the upholding of children’s rights and improved outcomes in the future.

“We hope those who complete this course will find it enhances their expertise, ability and confidence to support often vulnerable children, young people and families in moving away from offending behaviour and achieving positive outcomes for all.”

The course was designed following consultation with youth justice stakeholders from across the UK.

Delivered as a 12-month, part-time distance learning course it has been designed to offer the flexibility to grow knowledge, skills and continued professional development whilst maintaining existing professional commitments.

Click here to find out more about the Postgraduate Certificate