In this blog, Kevin Lafferty, Participation Consultant with Staf, reflects on how our Youth Justice Voices project has continued to give care and justice experienced young people a space to be heard during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Just as our Artivism project was about to end and our steering group Youth Just Us was about to restart, the Coronavirus hit and we were all told to stay at home. This was tough because the young people steering the group really valued the safe space it took place in. We wondered how we could still engage with them and let them know that we are here to help them negotiate this crisis, and they still had a voice and purpose, which is to tackle the issues facing care and justice experienced young people.

We decided that the only way to do this was using Zoom and video group chats. Recognising digital poverty was going to be a factor in preventing that participation, we sent out some SIM cards at the start of the crisis, with data on them, hoping that could help. Already we’re on week eight of Zoom Youth Just Us and the input has been incredible. We’ve shared via Zoom how we’re feeling about things. What we’re doing to keep ourselves busy at home. Inspiring answers such as learning a new language, writing blogs and doing cross stitch we hear about, but we also hear about how fed up and frustrated young people are and how difficult it really is for them to stay at home.

We decided to create a newsletter designed to inform young people about Youth Just Us, tell them what we’ve been doing and how they could be involved. We attached a list of questions which people can answer via text or email, anonymously or not. We hope this will engage those in the margins who can’t for whatever reason engage via Zoom, letting them know they still have a voice during COVID-19 and after.

The brilliant Artivism project had just finished and although we weren’t able yet to have a physical exhibition of their pieces of work we have come together again via Zoom and organised an online exhibition.

For the young people from Inside Out in HMP&YOI Polmont, we have been meeting with staff from the Barnardo’s youth work team on Zoom. Talking and looking into things such as the support offered to those due for release, how we can still involve those not due for release, and hearing how they are coping with COVID-19. We have heard how they have been allowed to have more frequent calls to home and support workers. The SPS are looking at setting up video calling too. Just now we hope those who want to, will answer the questions on our newsletter and be aware that even though the tough predicament they are in just now, having more restrictions placed on a life with no liberty, that things can change for the better. We believe giving young people a chance to be heard is really important – now more than ever.

The Youth Justice Voices newsletter will be available in June. Email [email protected] for more info.

Photo: Credit to Artivism project and Scott Lang.