Young people from the care system who offend are some of the hardest to reach and marginalised in society. In 2017, one of Staf's key objectives was to find out more and see what role we could play in supporting them better.

Through visits to one of Scotland's secure units (HMYOI Polmont) and talking to researchers and those with lived experience, it quickly became clear that there was a huge amount of passion and willingness to create change BUT there were also huge challenges.

Once in secure care intensive interventions are proposed as an effective solution. In most cases young people begin to heal, only to find that when they go back into the community it is difficult to maintain.

While there are some very powerful statistics which indicate a track record of moving towards prevention, they do not marry up with the stories of lived experience or indeed where the money is currently being spent.

Opportunities are being missed and young people are slipping through the net.

Dinner with Dialogue

With all this in mind we held a dinner in November 2017, bringing together some of the key influencers in the sector and people with lived experience. Titled "Uncomfortable Truths" it was an opportunity for everyone's voice to be heard.

The atmosphere was electric and the conversation powerful with the feedback ranging from "inspiring" and "poweful" to "filled with endless possibilities and hope".

Some of the key conclusions that were drawn from the conversation were:

  • the importance of a long lasting relationship and a "champion"
  • the importance of employment and the impact that time within secure or prison can have on this
  • the need for early intervention
  • the importance of the community in resettlement and, as a community, increasing their understanding
  • a lack of consistency: changes in school, changes in support when secure ends, placement changes and moves to or within prison
  • the importance of language use: in respect of shared language across organisations or sectors, interventions e.g. "parenting classes", "siblings" where language has the ability to create shame or put up barriers, in respect of how people and their behaviours are spoken about
  • the importance of information sharing and communication, ensuring young people don't lose ownership over the information or the right to privacy
  • importance of treating some issues as public health issues rather than something needing to be dealt with in the criminal justice system
  • Addressing the issues of dependency within the care and prison system

There was also discussion about rights and social justice aknowledging, after all, this was a group who had already been punished with adverse childhood experiences of abuse, neglect and household dysfunction and there was a need to acknowledge the:

  • importance of creating an environment that is nurturing
  • humanity of everyone involved
  • rights based argument as well as the economic one

Youth Justice Participation Project

At the heart of our work at Staf is the belief that care-experienced young people are the primary and most significant influencers in developing and improving outcomes for their peers.

However, what was clear from the conversations we have had and what we have read is that care-experienced young people, whilst over-represented in the justice system, find that their voice is missing from many of the structures, organsiations and services that exist to support them.

We have seen from the commitment and hard work carried out by Who Cares? Scotland how influential that voice can be and for Staf we felt this is where we could begin to play our part.

As a result, CYCJ and Staf have now come together and applied for funding to create a national 'youth justice participation project' which involves the recruitment of a participation worker, preferably with personal experience of the justice system.

Interrupting the Cycle of Trauma and Adversity

Lastly, there is a need to interrupt the cycle of trauma and adversity which leads care-experienced young people into the justice system and to create an enabling environment which allows them to reclaim their lives.

It is this full recovery and reclaiming of their lives which is proving so challenging and which we are looking to now explore.


Youth Justice Improvement Board: Children and Young People in Custody in Scotland: Looking Behind the Data (external website)

SACRO Lecture: The Rhetoric of Preventing Offending: What we say, What we do and how we can do better (PDF)

Create Global Healing: