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Child First Justice: the research evidence-base [Full report]

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posted on 2021-03-03, 14:58 authored by Stephen CaseStephen Case, Ann Browning
This report presents the research evidence-base for adopting the ‘Child First’ strategic objective to guide the work of the Youth Justice System (YJS) of England and Wales. The report begins with an overview of the evolution of the YJB’s Child First strategic objective from a principle developed in Wales into a set of evidence-based tenets that underpin a complete model of practice. It outlines the origins of Child First in international children’s rights instruments (e.g. the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989), tracing its evolution and development in scholarship, research and government strategy, leading into its recent formalisation in the strategy and national standards of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales. For the purposes of clear and accessible discussion, the Child First principle is unpacked into four ‘tenets’, each of which includes a range of components.
1 See children as children: Prioritise the best interests of children, recognising their particular needs, capacities, rights and potential. All work is child-focused, developmentally informed, acknowledges structural barriers and meets responsibilities towards children.
2 Develop pro-social identity for positive child outcomes: Promote children’s individual strengths and capacities to develop their pro-social identity for sustainable desistance, leading to safer communities and fewer victims. All work is constructive and future-focused, built on supportive relationships that empower children to fulfil their potential and make positive contributions to society.
3 Collaboration with children: Encourage children’s active participation, engagement and wider social inclusion. All work is a meaningful collaboration with children and their carers.
4 Promote diversion: Promote a childhood removed from the justice system, using preemptive prevention, diversion and minimal intervention. All work minimises criminogenic stigma from contact with the system.
Informed by a comprehensive review (a methodology is available in appendix I) of international sources of literature, the report presents the research evidence-base for Child First as a complete model of practice and in relation to its four individual, interacting tenets. Each section collates, discusses and evaluates the principle of Child First in terms of their underpinning theories (e.g. causes of offending, programme change mechanisms, their basis in national and international policies/strategies (including children’s rights instruments) and their related empirical research evidence-bases from the field of youth justice and associated areas (e.g. childhood and youth studies, policing, social work, health). Case studies and operational examples are integrated throughout to illustrate the research evidence-base in practice. The evidence collected and reported brings longstanding, multi-disciplinary research evidence-bases related to each tenet and the associated emerging practical (research) evidence-base to support the Child First model of youth justice.


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Commissioned by: LU EPG.


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Prof Stephen Case. Deposit date: 3 March 2021

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