On Thursday 27th January, Dr Claire Lightowler, former CEO of CYCJ presented the 19th Kilbrandon Lecture: A rights-respecting approach for children who offend: building on Kilbrandon's vision

Ruth Kerracher, Youth Justice Participation Lead, presented the response to the lecture on behalf of the member's of Youth Justice Us, our Care and Justice Experienced steering group. This is what they had to say...

Thank you Claire for such an important lecture. You’ve really highlighted how we need to reframe not only how we support children in conflict with the law but also how we perceive children and young people more widely. I hope your words spark action so that as a nation we start to realise all of our children are active right’s holders.

As Claire mentioned she had the pleasure of meeting Youth Just Us a steering group of phenomenal young people. Young people involved in this project have experience of both the care and justice systems in Scotland and a real desire to not only be heard but to have their views acted on. Young people aged 16-25 have been involved in the project since 2019, influencing change and steering what Staf and CYCJ’s national participation project Youth Justice Voices has become today.

Before I go on to provide a more formal response to the lecture which includes the views of Youth Just Us members, I wanted to highlight a few things which struck myself and the group. Upon meeting Claire many of the young people shared that they had never heard of Kilbrandon. They also wondered why they have not been asked to contribute and influence a lecture like this before which is ultimately talking about their experiences and what needs to change in Scotland. They believe that young people’s voices should be at the heart of all future lectures and they too should be able to lead responses and direct questions at everyone here today. So again I want to thank Claire for not just taking the time to listen to Youth Just Us but also ensuring that their views were represented and influenced the content of the lecture we’ve heard today.

It is clear that what you set out in your right respecting approach is based on years of learning, research and evidence. You build upon the ground-breaking work of the Kilbrandon committee recognising that offending behaviour is an indicator of concern for the child - demonstrating the need for care and protection – and with the focus on needs not deeds there is the opportunity to respond from the same children’s hearing system.

But Claire goes further to acknowledge that we need to do better -recognising that children and young people as are in fact in conflict with a system. The members of Youth Just Us pointed out children are in conflict with many systems – particularly when they grow up in poverty. This is the first point that Youth Just Us wanted to highlight in the response – the impact that poverty has on many children and families basic human rights and needs in Scotland. It is their belief that it is often the root cause of children and families coming into contact with multiple systems in the first place whether that’s care, justice, welfare or housing.

This is why the emphasis on changing how we regard and respond to children and young people is vital. We need to see children and young people as rights holders and like Claire has suggested professionals, services and ultimately the systems role should be to protect and uphold these rights - treating children as children – not by labelling and escalating their contact with the justice system or worst still locking traumatised children in adult systems and prisons which strip children of some of the most important relationships, experiences and years of their lives.

At Youth Just Us we have had many discussions around the issues Claire has highlighted. Young people continually tell us that they are in a legal system they do not understand. To quote “It diminishes your sense of self-worth and identity”. The language used, formal processes, jargon, legal terms and complex systems let alone scary settings like court can feel alien and inhumane. To quote again “It’s almost easy to forget someone is a person let alone a child”.

Claire has eloquently highlighted many of the concerns but she has also pointed to community alternatives and more appropriate spaces and approaches which can manage risk and help people to overcome harm when required. Members of Youth Just Us have suggested that we need to make community alternatives more meaningful so they enable children and young people to move on and strengthen skills and qualifications as opposed to punish. Their key ask is for adults and professionals to take the time to build positive relationships, to provide safe and creative spaces where they can express themselves and develop as a person. Which to me highlights the important role that universal youth work, Community Learning Development and youth-led participation projects can have on people’s lives.

Like Claire has highlighted along with the members of Youth Just Us we know a lot of the answers already. Children and young people have also told us time and time again what needs to change – which is evident when they complain of being asked the same questions in adult spaces with no feedback or payment for their expertise. Participation is greater than that.

Thank you once again to Claire for her emotive lecture – you’ve certainly inspired me. Hopefully if we reframe our thinking we will see children and young people as assets to our communities and rights holders who should shape the supports, services and policies which affect them. Or in simpler terms as one of our young people said we don’t need people to be brave…

We don’t need superheroes. We just need people to respect our rights and uphold their responsibilities, ask us “what can I do to help

Thank you again to Claire and for this opportunity.

I have a questions I would now like to ask on behalf of Youth Just Us.

  • What can we learn from other countries internationally? This is in reference to examples of where you value their approach to rights and justice.
  • Secondly is perhaps more rhetorical but maybe you might have a response to this. Rights are on the walls across schools why are they not across all the walls of the justice system?

You can find out more about the Kilbrandon Report here. A full recording of the lecture will be available soon.