It has been well documented that children and young people who come into conflict with the criminal justice system are often affected by a large variety of issues including, but not limited to, social exclusion, poverty, fractured families, mental health difficulties, and domestic violence.Many also have been, or are, in the care of the State. Children and young people in Northern Ireland also find themselves living with the legacy of the Northern Ireland conflict, and the difficulties this may bring, such as experience of violence within their community.
With this in mind, research has been conducted into the role that ‘significant adults’ may play in supporting these particularly vulnerable children. It has found that the one-to-one support of a trust-worthy, reliable and honest adult is crucial, and such support is of great assistance to young people in helping them to make more positive decisions about their own lives.
The report makes 10 recommendations, including:
- Information should be disseminated about the importance of positive relationships between young people and significant adults.
- Organisations offering such support to young people should be given long term, statutory funding.
- The young people’s own views should be central in determining the success of any projects aimed to support them.
- Criminal justice agencies dealing with young people should primarily aim to encourage those young people to participate in decision-making.
- Rights of young people should be at the centre of practice, and training of adults working in structured programmes should reflect this.
- Further research in this area should be undertaken.
- Where possible, when it is in the best interest of the child, contact with family should be supported. Organisations working to support the families of children who are in conflict with the law, including the families of prisoners, should receive adequate resources from Government.
- Negative stereotyping of children and young people should be tackled.
- NICCY should undertake further research into the plight of disadvantaged children in Northern Ireland and the impact it has on their development as well as their potential to be drawn into offending behaviour.
The report may be read in full here.