News and Blogs Blogs What Youth Just Us Means to Me As a young man who is Care Experienced and spent time in prison, I’ve been involved in Youth Just Us from the very beginning. While inside HMP Low Moss it didn’t take me long to realise that the young men who were being kept there were often aggrieved by the way they were treated by staff, the poor facilities and the lack of support offered to engage in a rehabilitation plans with professionals. Such as housing officers, benefits specialists and educational facilitators. When I was liberated, I stared to write blogs about the injustices I had witnessed. I felt the need to raise awareness and research whether there was an actual safe space for care and justice experienced young people, between 18-25, to discuss the trauma imprisonment had put upon them and was there an avenue they could follow to influence change in the policies and procedures that had let them down. My blogs were noticed by a youth justice participation worker, Ruth Kerracher. Ruth told me she also realised this misrepresented and excluded group, of mainly young men, were effectively shunned from democracy and disengaged from any type of participation where they might share their own opinions and wishes. Having experiences in the justice system does not make someone a bad person and at Youth Just Us we understand that building strong caring relationships, like the one myself and Ruth established in the early days of the project, are ones to be maintained with our young people. It’s the bedrock for them to be able to utilise the opportunities of skills development, feel confident that they are a value to society, can direct positive change in their own lives and that of their peers. Empowerment isn’t something that is given. It’s a realisation within oneself that they do have the capacity, capability, and the self determination to solve the problems life brings them. Throughout the three years I’ve been working with Youth Just Us, I have manged to end my own homelessness, keep steady employment, deal with my mental health in a way that’s not destructive and, above all for me, I have watched other young people realise their own potential is there and the support is there for them to utilise it. I have had the opportunity to use Youth Just Us as a platform to stand and voice my disgruntlement to John Swinney MSP about how I, at the age of 28, would not have been eligible to receive the Care Experienced bursary. I asked him how it was possible that during my two years of education it was assumed I was financially stable. And did that in fact mean that being Care Experienced is a time limited experience instead of being one that stays with you for life. Later on that week, the Scottish Government announced the removal of the age cap on the bursary. It stated that my powerful explanation was crucial to the decision being made. A proud moment for myself but It just goes to prove that the experts in the care and justice systems are the people that live through it and are the ones who hold the knowledge. At Youth Just Us we use a creative youth work approach with our group where we will develop ways to consult our young people on issues, such as the Children’s Care and Justice Bill that has just been released, in ways that are fun, meaningful and isn’t tokenistic for the benefit of others. We believe that young people should be rewarded for their time in whichever way they prefer. We ensure that feedback and evaluation are crucial for our young people to grow in creating positive outcome for themselves and feeling connected. Our young people have also been involved in designing a game called ‘Nae Danger’ with No Knives, Better Lives where they constructed various scenarios, loosely based on their own experiences. They did the voiceovers for the characters and provided expertise for follow up workshops based on self-care. This is an exciting time once again for Youth Just Us as we have now secured funding to extend the project outwith the central belt and continue for three more years. We have received a commendation for our previous work from the prestigious Howard league award and believe the chances of winning this accreditation will be down to you, the young people that lead our group and influence the change that’s needed.If you’re aged 16 – 25 with care and justice experience and are interested in joining Youth Just Us then you can email them at [email protected] or call/WhatsApp Ruth on 07940 068343. You can also follow them on Twitter @YJVScotland or find out more at www.staf.scot/youth-justice-voices.