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Keeping children out of the justice system
Young advocates report explore routes into the justice system for young people and, critically, pathways out of it.

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A youth-led report

Earlier this week (9 April 2024), the Young Advocates for Youth Justice published a new report focused on keeping children and young people out of the justice system. The Young Advocates project is a youth-led project that places the voices and experiences of children and young people affected by the justice system at the heart of decision-making.

The project is delivered in partnership by the Alliance for Youth Justice (AYJ) and Leaders Unlocked and is led by children and young people who have lived experience of the youth justice system. The current report presents findings from conversations with 90 children and young people with experience of the youth justice system.

Peer research

The report is based on group workshops and an online survey and focuses on three priorities:

  1. Criminalisation: A process whereby acts become seen and treated as criminal, through public perception, legislation and law enforcement.
  2. Policing: The first contact most children have with the justice system and law enforcement.
  3. Intervention and Diversion: Things that can help young people avoid the justice system.


The key finding is that young people are put under suspicion due to their age, associations and ‘the group’ and most targeted due to race and nationality. Intersectionality significantly impacts targeting and treatment.

Negative stereotype-driven, long-term labelling continues to be a trust-eroding issue across many of the services that young people access. Common aspects of childhood and adolescence – travelling to and from school, being with friends or family, and changes in appearance or style – are perceived as suspicious and often amplified by the specific demographic characteristics of those involved. This is reportedly felt regarding treatment by schools, policing, social and mental health services, as well as extending to portrayals of youth in mainstream media.

Young people repeatedly suggested race, nationality, and perceived age as reasons for unequal treatment. This makes experiences of labelling, targeting and criminalisation feel indistinguishable from each other, and has a cumulative impact. However, children and young people’s age, associations and groups were most frequently mentioned as being penalised and punished in their day to day lives. These broad categories allow for even more opportunities to be labelled for children and young people who are also racialised or otherwise marginalised.

Young people felt that targeting of their social lives is partly related to perceptions of young people and why they are viewed this way. There is a sense that ‘good news doesn’t sell’ and stories from and about social media show inaccurate portrayals of youth culture, allowing for a generation to be generalised.


Young people generally felt that the police have too much power, and not enough accountability. Some young people could acknowledge that they had experienced fewer negative interactions with police officers than others they know. There is increasing cultural significance in the numerous cases of police sexual misconduct and brutality in the news, and a heightened sense of fear and frustration that no consequences have been seen for officers involved.

Survey respondents disagreed strongly with the idea that police in schools would increase feelings of safety, and strongly agreed that the presence of police changes where they go. This raises a worrying question about where children at risk of violence, exploitation or exposure to criminal behaviour can go to feel truly safe.

Intervention and diversion

Schools and education providers continue to have the most significant and clear responsibility for providing support to children and young people and identifying if problems are starting to emerge. Many children said that their schools were quick to suspend or exclude them, and rarely willing to take responsibility, labelling students a ‘bad child’ out of fear of being labelled a ‘bad school’.

Following experiences of being suspended, even for short periods, a strong sense of ongoing powerlessness in the face of injustice remained. Often an unknown threshold was met meaning they could not return to their school and most other schools would no longer take them. This was especially frustrating when considering widely publicised penalties for parents whose children do not attend schools. We know that being out of school increases a child’s vulnerability to criminal and other exploitation, but what is perhaps less talked about, is the impact it has on self-esteem and the gap felt in comparison to peers.

Outside of long-term access to education, having both a positive role model and a positive activity to be regularly involved in are most needed to help a child to avoid the justice system initially and after prior contact. The most common interventions were mentoring and sports; these were also the most positively reported on. However, this reliance on sports likely disadvantages girls who are less likely to be catered for and access sports-based interventions. 

However, respondents told us that peer-to-peer relationships, and environments that reinforce the positive version of oneself, are what will make all the difference when going through a difficult time. The infographic above summarises peer advice for children and young people going through a difficult time.

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2 responses

  1. We had programs before and after school and parent education and peer role models to keep students in school and developed courses so they would be engaged We had bus trips camps work experience and was successful for 20 years The most number of aboriginal students in high school land 120 in grade 11 and 12 and they stopped the programs and removed the teachers . 50 went on the higher education and many ex students did well but the rot started when they brought law and order into schools and suspended large numbers that ran the streets and took the others and eventually stole cars and became the statistics now of youth detention z
    Why? We ask why? Did they stop a successful program? Mabo? Jeslosy? It seems a deliberate scapegoating of minorities Instead of missions we have jails and detention centres

  2. My advice to younger people (from an older experienced person) is:
    1. Don’t forget how vulnerable you are. There is danger at every corner and it is normally from young people your own age. Young males are particularly vulnerable to extreme violent attacks and, thus, death.
    2. If possible, reduce your time outside in the evenings for your own physical safety. It is never acceptable for anyone to be aggressive with you ever.
    3. Focus on learning useful, employability, skills: Mechanical, medicine, I.T. for example. Follow the money.
    4. Reduce your social media commenting. It is recorded. It is a harsh competitive world out there. Be aware that anyone will use your social media commenting against you at any time, for the rest of your life, putting you at physical harm, for the rest of your life.
    5. Keep away from the Police. Have no business with them. They don’t solve people’s problems. They arrest everyone and prosecute everyone with the aim of criminalising everyone in the country. This is called subjugation of the people – to make their life easier. The politicians want more power over the people to make their life easier, too. Parliament law making is broken. More and more criminal law – not less. The UK is, now, a police State.
    6. Learn French, German, Dutch or Spanish. There are jobs in Europe which means you can leave broken Britain.
    7. House or flat sharing leads to arguments not shared costs. It’s the worst type of housing.
    8. Live in a city or large town at the start of your life. You won’t get a job elsewhere or if you do, you won’t be able to afford the transport costs and, thus, will lose your job.
    9. Go to Church. Learn silent contemplation of your position in the world and how you should behave in it. Understand that sin is everywhere and recognise it when you see it.
    10. Keep a diary of your thoughts, ideas, events and plans. Put a password on it. Keep your ideas, thoughts and plans to yourself or they will be stolen from you. Just work, silently, every day to make those plans become a reality.
    11. If you’re talking, you’re not working. Live your life in silent contemplation or at least try to. Try to be good and do your best every day. So, don’t use the phone to make phone calls to do business. Use email and online forms.
    12. The bad things you do in your early life will stay with you for the rest of your life no matter what good things you do after. They can’t be undone.
    13. Recognise when someone is provoking you. A raised voice or aggressive language is almost always a sign of that. Walk away from those people immediately.
    14. When making complaints put them in writing. When complaining about retail customer service do it anonymously, online, via a review. Don’t use that retailer again.
    15. Keep away from takeaways, pubs and nightclubs. Too many people die there. Keep away from alcohol and anywhere that has a bouncer/guard. It’s a clue that extreme violence happens there. Keep away from violent places.
    16. Keep away from someone who tells you they are mentally ill. It is a warning not a plea for help.
    17. When in a relationship you don’t have to be with them 7 days a week.
    18. Suicide is not a lifestyle choice. It’s a sin.
    19. You are here on this Earth because God gave you life. Help yourself so that you can help others live.
    20. Never carry weapons. They will be used against you and you will die.
    21. Life can a matter of luck. But good luck happens to those who follow the above rules.

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