Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

Still Working with "Involuntary Clients" in Youth Justice

Academic journal article British Journal of Community Justice

Still Working with "Involuntary Clients" in Youth Justice

Article excerpt


Involuntary clients; participation; relationship-based practice; youth justice; young offenders


Young people are not often provided with opportunities to actively participate, engage and influence service design and delivery in youth justice (Haines and Case, in press; Hart & Thompson, 2009). This could be due to the idea of participation being inconsistent with an emphasis on punishment (Beyond Youth Custody, 2014). Indeed participatory principles conflict somewhat with the whole premise of youth justice intervention and in particular the notion of just deserts (Beyond Youth Custody, 2014). Moreover, young people who have offended have not only committed a crime but contravened normative social expectations regarding how one is expected to behave and in turn forfeited the right to have a say (Hart & Thompson, 2009). However, in accordance with international standards, treaties, and conventions--most notably the United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child--the participatory rights of children in conflict with the law should be promoted. That said rather than being human rights based, practice is very much focused on compliance, compulsion and coercion (Haines & Case, in press).

This paper explores the various challenges associated with promoting the active participation of young people who have offended. Particularly the paper explores the difficulties engaging those who are disengaged, as such individuals may perceive the support on offer as unnecessary and intrusive. The article argues that the topic of participation is in urgent need of development and thus requires fresh political, academic and practice attention. It also argues that in order to reconcile this lack of user-led engagement and experiences of disempowerment the priority should be throughout the Youth Justice System to involve young people in decision-making processes.

A lack of active participation from children and young people in the design and delivery of youth justice services has culminated in the effectiveness of the Youth Justice System being reduced (Haines & Case, in press). There has been little independent scrutiny and to add to that strategic direction on how children's voices are or should be accessed in practice (Hart & Thompson, 2009). Ideas will be put forward with regard to how youth justice practice could become more participatory and engaging, particularly with those who are "involuntary clients" or in other words difficult to engage.

Participation in youth justice

To participate is to be involved and have some say over the process. With regard to the use of participatory approaches across the tariff of youth justice interventions and providers of services, 'the involvement of young people in their own assessment is underdeveloped and, even where they provide useful information; this may not be used to inform the plans that are made ...' (Hart & Thompson, 2009:4). Indeed rather than promoting their active participation and starting from the child's wants and needs--and embedding such practice throughout assessment, planning, intervention and supervision practice is very much adult-led and disempowering for the child (Case & Haines, 2009; Haines & Case, in press). It must be acknowledged, though, that the Youth Justice Board recognise the importance of service user involvement in assessment and is in the process of implementing (2014/2015) a new and improved assessment framework that claims to give much greater emphasis to young people's wishes and feelings (Creaney & Smith, 2014; Haines & Case, in press). This tool may allow practitioners to devise broader, more proactive solutions to tackle identifiable issues as the assessment framework intends to be more holistic and sensitive to children's needs and wishes. In so doing, it is future orientated, concerned with strengths and aspirations rather than risky behaviours (Haines & Case, in press). …

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