Improving legal support for children in conflict with the law

Date: 2nd August 2022
Category: Child justice system

Illustration shows a group of children lying on the ground drawing a picture of a judge.

In a new blog, Dr Claire Lightowler shares emerging findings from her research to better understand the legal needs of children and young people in conflict with the law.

The project commenced in April and the final report is expected in September 2022. It has been made possible with funding from The Promise Partnership’s ‘A Good Childhood’ fund. 

The study will involve engaging with children, young people and professionals who support them (such as police, social work, solicitors). Work is ongoing with children and young people to co-design engagement sessions that will take place over the summer.

Initial findings include:

  • Good legal support for children needs to focus on the individual and not the process. It needs to be responsive to the specific child’s needs and situation;
  • Importance of practitioners having a common set of child-friendly justice values, trauma-informed practice and a good understanding of child development and children’s rights;
  • Importance of building a trusting relationship with the child, which takes time;
  • Support should be available when children need it – not limited by a 9am-5pm work schedule;

The research has also began to uncover a range of legal gaps and issues, including inconsistencies in definition of a child, particularly issues affecting 16- and 17-year-olds who are often treated as adults in Scots law, despite being classed as children under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The study will suggest improvements to respond to these gaps.