STAF’s Youth Justice Voices North East info session was a brilliant start to our work out with the central belt. We would personally like to thank the staff at The Westburn for making the event possible and being so accommodating, it was a lovely welcome to your community, and it is very clear the young people hold The Westburn and its staff in a very high regard. Also, thank you to Station House Media Unit (SHMU) for attending and listening to how young people in the community would like to engage with participation projects. We’ve already learned a great deal, and are buzzing to get back through to Aberdeen in a couple weeks to link up again.

It was extremely insightful to hear a diverse range of young people from various backgrounds, expressing their opinions about what it means to be care experienced, and the consequences of being labelled without really being given a chance to succeed. The stigma that surrounds being involved in the care and justice systems are still rife, and the young people were visibly passionate about changing this. Sadly, it’s not other young people that need educating, the issue needs to be tackled at the root, with young people stating that they felt more stigmatized from the older generation, and those in positions of power. They stated that:

“it’s not other young people that are judging us for our experiences usually, and when it is, it’s down to learned behaviour.”

The conversation was passionate, and upsetting at times, and we thank the young people for their honesty and ability to be candid with us, despite this only being the beginning of our partnership. Discussing past troubling experiences is something that’s never easy, and having to recount this numerous times to different individuals and services is something we wanted to avoid, as one young person mentioned:

“It forces us to relive those experiences that are upsetting, and it’s something that happens over and over.”

This disconnect between services that the young people identified is something that Staf will aim to tackle alongside the young people involved in our steering group. There was good conversation surrounding how best to engage young people in the community, how to get an accurate representation of what young people want, and how Staf can facilitate this alongside other partners. It is clear these young people want to affect change, want their stories to be heard, and ultimately want the stigma of being involved in the care and justice systems to end.

Although we discussed a lot of tough topics, we also had a lot of fun. We’ve never seen such passion for hatred of Heinz beans or love of prawn sandwiches! The energy was great and there was a clear community spirit. It’s obvious these young people care about Aberdeen, some of whom who have lived here their whole lives, but also those who were new to the city and have felt immediately welcome.

See you soon Aberdeen!