We spoke with Professor Stephen Case, academic, researcher and writer in youth offending and youth justice about his research into the 'Child First' principle and implementing this principle in practice.
In your opinion, what three changes should be implemented into the Youth Justice system in order to reduce reoffending and promote positive intervention?
The 'Child First' guiding principle and strategic objective for youth justice should be rolled out across the system through closer collaboration between a key stakeholder organisations nationally and locally, the refinement and improvement of youth justice mechanisms and processes (e.g. practice guidance, out-of-court processes, inspection criteria) and the greater prioritisation of positive outcomes for children.
Can you give any examples of good practice from your research into the 'Child first, offender second' ways of working in youth justice?
Both Swansea Bureau and a Surrey Youth Support Service have offered evidence-based examples of good diversionary practice, at least until they were both negatively affected by service reconfiguration in the 2010s. Both offered demonstrably effective, integrated, whole child, rights-based and participative approaches to working with children out-of-court and both prioritised positive outcomes through non-criminalising support and intervention, often delivered by services outside of the youth justice system.
What are common misconceptions you have found in your work that practitioners might not be aware of?
Practitioners are not yet fully aware that 'Child First' as a guiding principle for their practice has a comprehensive and long-standing evidence base (see Case and Browning 2021) across all of its component principles. In my experience, practitioners can also be misled by practice and inspection guidance into believing that the risk management approach to delivering youth justice has an uncontroversial, robust and consensual evidence-based, when this is far from the case. Indeed, risk management perspectives can be a significant obstacle to progressive, child-friendly, humane youth justice practice (e.g. diversion).
Can you tell us about any emerging trends from your research in youth justice?
Stakeholders from the youth justice sector consistently report to me that they are supportive of the child first strategic objective of the Youth Justice Board, but that they require further support and consultation in order to fully understand what Child First means to them and how the strategy should be most effectively implemented in their particular practice context.
What are you currently working on or have plans to start working on for us to keep an eye out?
I am about to publish a report entitled 'Child First Strategic Implementation Project' which presents the findings of the stakeholder consultation regarding the enablers and barriers to implementing child first in practice. It complements the recent child first evidence base report. Both reports are available at: