Discovering the impact of COVID-19 on justice experienced children and young people in Scotland

Date: 25th June 2020
Category: Family Environment and Alternative Care


Research finds children and young people who have had previous experience or are currently in contact with youth justice services or practitioners working within the youth justice system, are feeling increasingly isolated in lockdown.

The key findings gathered from children and young people were:

  • Isolation and lack of contact with others, such as family, friends and services has been the biggest issue affecting those in contact with the justice system. Other impacts of COVID-19 restrictions included boredom, not being able to attend school, managing financially and lack of information and the uncertainty of the current situation.
  • Changes to the operation of the youth justice system were highlighted as a concern. This included delays owing to restrictions to court and Children’s Hearings; progression of plans; maintaining contact with services and supports including social work and legal professionals and attending court; and for those in custody.
  • Lockdown was mostly described as a negative experience. Children and young people stated staying occupied and in contact with others helped.
  • Views on physical distancing were more mixed and overall, more positive than on lockdown.
  • For those who had been in contact with the police, mixed experiences were reported, varying between responses being deemed fair and appropriate, and more adversarial and negative. A small group of children described negative experiences based on feeling targeted by the police.
  • Almost all participants had been able to stay in touch with family and friends and many with services and supports, with various means being utilised to do so.
  • The impact on children and young people’s mental health was a key theme and when asked what those around these children and young people could do to help, a number of individuals mentioned support and provisions could be offered to aid contact with family and friends; having activities and things to stay busy; easing restrictions; and supporting particular young people such as those in custody.

The concerns of practitioners who work within the justice system and services were:

  • Social isolation affects children and young people’s health and wellbeing, and both boredom and lack of activity affect their routine and substance use.
  • Maintaining contact and keeping relationships within the family home was challenging.
  • Some existing challenges such as delays to processes and release from custody have been exacerbated by COVID-19.
  • The impact on offence types and compliance with restrictions has changed in some areas as time has progressed. To begin with, there were increases in shoplifting, antisocial behaviour and COVID-19 related offences such as coughing and spitting. Whilst later during lockdown, there was an increase in more serious offences in some areas, such as driving offences, serious assaults and possession of drugs and weapons.

Practitioners also noted:

  • Overall, children and young people have complied well with the restrictions associated with COVID-19 and the approach from Police Scotland is reported to have been appropriate.
  • A range of factors have worked in supporting children and young people: keeping in touch through creative methods via various technological platforms to run activities, competitions, games, eLearning/digital awards and projects; ensuring access to things to keep them occupied, practical resources and technology; working with partners; and the dedication of staff.

Read the research report in full here.