A social ecological approach to ‘child-friendly’ youth justice

In September 2017, I presented at the ‘Child-Friendly’ Youth Justice? Conference at Cambridge University in England. If you’re interested in  the topic of  #EffectivePractice in #YouthJustice, here’s the published version of what I was talking about, and a brief summary below…

A social ecological approach to ‘child-friendly’ youth justice

By Diana Johns

This paper draws on a 2015 study of ‘prolific’ offending by young people in Wales (Johns, Williams & Haines 2016). Following this study, using a case study of twelve young people and their YOT workers, we applied a social ecological lens to understand how and why youth justice interventions may have a positive impact in young people’s lives (Johns, Williams & Haines 2017). Through this analysis, we identify the keys to effective ‘child-friendly’ practice.

A child-friendly approach?

The social ecological approach to understanding children’s high-volume or persistent offending is ‘child-friendly’ because it decentres the young person as ‘the problem’, instead seeing the young person in different contexts.

By recognising that a young person’s identity is shaped through their interactions with others, a social ecological perspective tends to invite a strengths-based approach – building up a child’s capacity to trust and be trusted by others, rather than ‘filling in’ their deficits.

At the individual level, this means getting to know a young person to understand their strengths, interests, skills, hopes and abilities. It also means understanding their developmental stage and level of maturity.

From this social-ecological perspective, the worker’s role is to:

  • engage with and strengthen a young person’s supportive relationships, including within their family and peer group
  • seek out and advocate for young people’s access to opportunities to develop skills, to pursue pathways and identities away from offending, and to succeed.
  • consider the range of familial, social and cultural models available to young people in their area and at the time.

As one young man, ‘Gareth’ (who I interviewed at age 21) described, the Youth Offending Team (YOT) was:

…good at getting you on the right track, and keeping you here, making you feel rewarded, and that’s all you need to do really isn’t it?


Here’s the link to the published compendium of papers from the conference (my piece is on pages 24-28):


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