About

A TRAINING MODEL FOR JUSTICE PROFESSIONALS BY YOUNG EXPERIENCE EXPERTS 

The Youthlab is a training programme in which young people train justice professionals, using their first-hand experiences and interactive training forms. The Youthlab training was first designed and implemented by Young in Prison in the Netherlands in 2015, but between 2020-2022, the model was contextualized and further implemented by Defence for Children International in Belgium and Italy. 

This toolkit is one of the main outcomes of this project and it is now publicly available for those who wish to transform the juvenile justice system through youth participation. It aims to  take you on a journey towards promoting mutually respectful and impactful interactions between youngsters and justice professionals. It provides you with resources to inspire & engage relevant stakeholders and take all necessary steps to create the right mindset for everyone involved. Also, it hands you a wide range of inspirational materials to draw from when you are ready to design and implement  your own training – one that works in your own unique context.  

The methodology you will find here is the result of a years-long close and continuous collaboration with both young experience experts and justice professionals. Many lessons have been learned after numerous dialogues and training sessions. Underlying Youthlab are the Conventions on the Right of the Child, various models for the effective implementation of the right to be heard and an academic evidence base. 

WHY YOUTHLAB

The moment a young person comes in conflict with the law, is arrested and even deprived of his liberty, he enters a new and intimidating world, run by adults that speak a language full of legal jargon. Almost by default, this system captures and absorbs the young person and imposes its logic, rhythm and language upon him. Most young people feel alienated and lost, which has a negative impact on their wellbeing, contact with professionals, perception of fairness of the procedures and ability to participate. 

This alienation process is largely a matter of language and communication, as many justice professionals speak in a merely legal and instrumental language, which is a different language compared to what the young person knows and understands. To re-engage the young person in the criminal justice process, the language and communication skills  of legal professionals need to be connected with the expectations and (non)verbal communication skills of young people.

Child-friendly communication skills of professionals emphasize respect, demonstrate that young people are taken seriously and treated fairly and give them the means to increase control of their own case and life. Professionals find it challenging to engage and communicate with young people, because of the split reality they are working in: the legal world and the world of the child with its own language, norms and values.

Youthlab bridges this gap by facilitating exchanges between youth and justice professionals and promoting mutual understanding and empathy. To learn more, watch the trailer from our short documentary, Exchanging Perspectives. You can watch the full documentary here.

ABOUT THIS TOOLKIT

The Youthlab online toolkit is composed of three sections, each including a theoretical framework and practice steps. 

  • Section 1: I want to INSPIRE AND ENGAGE
    In the first session you will find all the elements  to inspire and engage funding partners, stakeholders, potential participants, justice professionails before  starting your journey. It includes the policies framework on Right of the Child within which Youthlab operates, models for the effective implementation of the right to be heard and an academic evidence base for youth participation.  You will also find testimonials of youngsters and justice professionals about their participation in the youth x justice exchange and a mini-documentary with the youth’s trajectory in the project. 
  • Section 2: I want to DEVELOP AND MANIFEST
    The second session provides you the tools to move onwards and get ready for youth x justice exchanges by sharing who and how you should prepare those involved in the program – what values, attitudes and skills you should look for or actively develop in order to implement a successful Youthlab. 
  • Section 3: I want to IMPLEMENT
    In the final section, you will find practical tools, such as session outlines and creative activities that can be replicated and/adapted. It also includes lessons learned, advice on how to overcome challenges and all the lessons learned accumulated by the partners.  

IMPLEMENTING YOUR YOUTHLAB

This toolkit aims to inspire and resource you to implement your own programme. It brings together the experiences, lessons learned and best practices from three partners in three countries. That is why we emphasize the importance of understanding your own context and juvenile justice system, recognise the common ground in our practices, while adapting the tools and approaches accordingly. 

Finally, this toolkit is a work in progress. We are continuously learning and improving our methods and practices, and we would be happy to incorporate your lessons learned and best practices to it!