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Youth justice in the UK: children, young people and crime
Youth justice in the UK: children, young people and crime

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4 Children’s views of Hearings

This is a photograph of a group of young people.
Figure 3 Young people should be in the picture and the process. Their voices matter.

As you’ve explored in earlier activities there are good reasons why children should not be treated as adults because their young age automatically implies a lack of maturity. Unfortunately, the same arguments often mean they are not listened to or, when they are, their experiences are dismissed as invalid because they lack the benefits of mature reasoning.

This process of dismissal is sometimes referred to as ‘infantilisation’. It implies that, because children and young people are closer in age to infants, they have no capacity to look after themselves, take meaningful decisions or act for themselves in their own best interests. People who work in children’s health and social care services must work hard to resist infantilisation. This can often involve listening respectfully and patiently. Sometimes this requires training and practice. In the next activity you will listen as children give voice to their experiences of the Hearings system.

Activity 5 The elephants in the room

Timing: Allow approximately 10 minutes for this activity

Finding out how children and young people see the world and make sense of their situation can be difficult. Recognising how important this is to the fairness, or otherwise, of the Hearings process the Scottish Government commissioned some workshops with children aged 7–15 from both urban and rural setting, to find out more about their experiences in the hearings system. Listen to an extract of their views and make a note of one or two phrases used by the children.

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Discussion

‘They stare at you’ … ‘you feel like a mouse in a mouse trap’ … ‘they’re bigger than you’ … ‘they’re adults’.

Listening to children is not like listening to adults. Their voices are often quieter. When children are asked to speak to a roomful of adults, they may sense they are outnumbered and at a disadvantage. What is obvious to children (the elephant in the room) can be invisible to well-meaning adults. The Scottish Children’s Parliament researchers who helped to make this film recognised this and provided a variety of ways to help the children express themselves, such as by offering them crayons to draw with and other ways to put their views across. People who work with children, or those who conduct research with and about them, learn many different techniques to help them hear children, respect their views and value their experiences. In times of distress and strain around a crime or some other form of harm, this is even more important.

Children’s lives, especially those that come to the attention of the Hearings system, can be full of challenges. Most children are referred to the system on welfare grounds and, even for the minority referred because of offences, securing their welfare is the priority of the Hearings.

Sometimes things don’t work out well and it can be hard to make changes. Some children face particularly difficult circumstances. The next section explores some of these scenarios.