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Supporting meaningful participation in youth justice
Participatory youth practice is a new model of working with young people in contact with the justice system.

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Participatory Youth Practice

Last week (27 August 2021) HM Inspectorate of Probation published the latest report in its “Academic Insights” series which is aimed at everyone within the probation sector with an interest in the evidence base. The Inspectorate commissions leading academics to present their views on specific topics in order to inform debate and help everyone’s understanding of what helps and what hinders probation and youth offending services.

The report is a particularly interesting one; “Supporting children’s meaningful participation in the youth justice system” has been written by Hannah Smithson,  Professor of Criminology and Youth Justice at Manchester Metropolitan University and Paul Gray, reader in criminology at the same university.

The authors summarise recent work across Greater Manchester which enabled the co-creation with justice-involved children of a transformative framework of practice, termed Participatory Youth Practice (PYP). The PYP principles are grounded in children’s rights and an ethos of meaningful participation, highlighting the need to help children to problem solve, to find better options, and develop their ambitions. The paper concludes with a helpful ‘How to Guide’ for co-creation and participation.

Participatory Youth Practice

Participatory Youth Practice is very much aligned with the recommendations of Charlie Taylor’s Review of our youth justice system which called for ‘a system in which young people are treated as children first and offenders second’.

This child first approach informed a two-year Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) between Manchester Metropolitan University and the 10 regional youth justice services across Greater Manchester. A member of the university research team was seconded to the regional youth justice services for the period of the project (2015-2017). The secondment revealed that, overall, the principles of managerialism and responsibilisation created barriers for practitioners to go much beyond the building of a good rapport with children. “Responsibilisation” is an academic term which describes how modern liberal government aim to strengthen citizens’ ability to be responsible for making positive choices in their lives, often through a two-edged approach of supervision and empowerment. The project set out to develop a new model of working with a focus on the two-way transfer of knowledge between children and the research team.

The university worked with 28 young men with experience of the youth justice system and co-created three day-long workshops covering activities selected by the young people: boxing, grime lyric writing and urban art. The workshops balanced the chosen activities interspersed with discussions of the young peoples’ experiences of the youth justice system.

The university and the young people discussed the main themes from this research and came up with a list of eight principles which because the PYP framework:

  1. let them participate
  2. always unpick why
  3. acknowledge limited life chances
  4. try to avoid threats and sanctions
  5. help problem solve
  6. help them find better options
  7. develop their ambitions
  8. remember that ultimately it’s their choice.


The project then developed a series of guides designed to support professionals working with young people to embed the principles of PYP into their practice. A final workshop was run with children in which they co-created a set of grime lyrics and a film to accompany the lyrics that explain the principles of PYP.

In the last four years the Manchester Centre for Youth Studies has delivered PYP training to over 250 professionals and each of the Greater Manchester youth offending teams (YOTs) identified a ‘participation champion’ to support their colleagues in understanding the framework, and how best to embed the PYP principles into everyday practice. PYP has been embedded into the strategic plans of the majority of the Greater Manchester YOTs resulting in it becoming ‘hard-wired’ into youth justice service provision.

Readers can find the report, with its links to the how-to guides, on the Probation Inspectorate’s website, on this page.

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