How change happens

The Theory of Change for the YouthLab Program explains our mission with and for our target audience: youngsters released after detention and professionals working in the judiciary system. Below you will find an overview of what we aim for with  the program. 

CHALLENGES 

Young people

  • resort to  a single and static script when engaging with justice professional
  • deal with  unresolved frustration and trauma from past experiences in the justice system
  • lack skills and tools to meaningfully  transform into a new and positive phase in life
  • experience persistent stigma: a lack of recognition in their new and positive role in life.

Professionals… 

  • resort to  a single and static script when engaging with youth, lacking awareness or skills for a tailor-made and empathic approach. 
  • are limited to  meet youth in roles of ‘offender’ versus ‘justice professional’; often lack  the opportunity for informal meetings outside court and detention. Therefore they are rarely able to connect outside the existing power-dynamics. 

INTERVENTION 

YouthLab facilitates the opportunity for both parties to connect outside this existing   power dynamic. We support and equip formerly detained young people, by creating a (safe) space to share their life story, learn to express themselves and participate in society in a meaningful way. Professionals are trained to act in an empathic and constructive approach towards youngsters and each other. 

A YouthLab training aims to make professionals and youngsters aware of the (single) script(s) they use in contact with each other and how to create multiple and adaptive scripts. For professionals, the aim is to improve their communication (skills) and empathic approach within the power-related situations and settings (like a courtroom). For young people, the purpose of the training is to experience that the youngster and their experience are taken seriously and are worthy of being heard, thereafter making a change to the system and their own lives.

ULTIMATE OUTCOME 

Young people:

“I am worthy to be heard and to be on my best path. My idea of Self transcends the things I have done or what happened to me. I can inspire change for myself and can help others get there too.” 

Professionals:

“I know how to systemically operate and communicate in a youth-friendly way, that is most beneficial for the young person I work with.”

Getting practical!

Now that you understand what a Youthlab entails, including the principles and values, it is time to get practical. 

The original exchange is a three-hour session that includes the preparation of youngsters and exchange with professionails. This model was tailored by each implementing partner according to their needs.

In addition, during the EU YouthLab project, many exchange sessions had to happen online due to COVID-19 restrictions. In order to counter the fatigue of the digital space, exchanges were broken down in multiple shorter sessions.

Below you will find the models of youth x justice exchange sessions that you can use as an inspiration for your own program. Remember that you might have to adapt them to your context, based on the  needs of the youngsters and professionals. 

Who is present during the Youth-x-Justice exchange?

  • Young experience experts (trainers)
  • Professionals (participants)
  • Youthlab coordinator / facilitator (to support youth, liaison institutional host and moderate the exchange session)
  • Institutional host (the organization representing the professionals).

The exchange usually lasts three hours and they focus on improving participants’ communication (skills) and empathic approach in their line of work. It is done so by:

  • listening to young people’s life stories
  • engaging with each other in (short) assignments.

By bringing these two parties together in a facilitated safe space, they are challenged – but also invited to “take off their coat” and open up as a professional/youngster to connect.

Below you can download the Session Overview and Session Outline.

International policy-frameworks on youth participation

By linking your YouthLab to international policy frameworks and standards, you are able to better legitimize it and engage partners and other stakeholders. 

So explore below the main internationally adopted frameworks and understand why these matter in your YouthLab initiative. 

UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

The Council of Europe protects and promotes the human rights of all children, based on the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child, the European Convention on Human Rights and other legal standards. Among the Council’s main topics are Child participation and Child-friendly justice

YouthLab as a model is a best practice on how to give shape to these two main areas of focus.  Over the years it has evolved bottom-up, in co-creation with both youngsters and justice professionals, to meet the International and European mission to protect and promote the rights of those under eighteen years of age within the justice system. 

After all:

The proceedings shall be conducive to the best interests of the juvenile and shall be conducted in an atmosphere of understanding, which shall allow the juvenile to participate therein and to express herself or himself freely. 

United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (‘The Beijing Rules’), 1985, para. 14.2.  


In 1989, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was adopted by the United Nations. The CRC is a legally binding instrument to ensure the rights of children worldwide. In its first article, children are defined as ‘every human being below the age of eighteen years’ (article 12 CRC).

1. States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters aff ecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.

2. For this purpose the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings aff ecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national  law.

Article 1 CRC : The right to be heard

One of the core children’s rights is the right to be heard (article 12 CRC). The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UN-Committee) explains in its General Comment No. 12 (2009) how to implement this right in practice. Article 12 CRC applies to both individual children and groups of children; they should be able to explain their views on all matters affecting them and their views should be given due weight. According to the UN-Committee, this means that the views of children should be seriously considered; simply listening is not enough (para. 28). Through participation, children can also learn how their views impacted the outcome of certain decisions (para. 3). Moreover, the best interests of the child (article 3 CRC) can only be considered when the child is heard, when taking a decision that affects the life of the child.

For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national  law.

The UN-Committee has formulated requirements that are needed for an effective implementation of article 12 CRC (para. 134). To hear and have children participate, the process should be:

  1. Transparent and informative;
  2. Voluntary;
  3. Respectful to children’s views and the context of children’s lives;
  4. Relevant to the lives of children, enabling them to draw on their knowledge and to address issues they themselves find relevant;
  5. Child-friendly, with adapted environments, working methods and resources;
  6. Inclusive, with opportunities for marginalized children;
  7. Supported by training for adults, in which children can be included as trainers and facilitators
  8. Safe and sensitive to risk, minimizing risk to children of violence, exploitation or other negative consequences;
  9. Accountable, with a commitment to follow-up and evaluation.

With regard to youth justice proceedings, the UN-Committee (2009) explains that throughout every stage of the penal proceedings the right of the child to be heard should be respected and implemented (para. 57-58). To effectively participate, children should be supported to understand the charges and consequences and the proceedings should be conducted in a language the child understands and in an atmosphere that allows children to participate. The UN-Committee (2019) refers to developments in child-friendly justice, which encourage child-friendly language, child-friendly interview spaces and courts, appropriate support, removing intimidating legal clothing and adapting the proceedings (para. 46).

The need for continuous and systematic training of professionals is also emphasized by the UN-Committee (2019, paras. 39, 52, 95, 111-112). This training should cover information from different fields on a) social/other causes of crime, b) development of children, c) inequalities that may lead to discrimination, d) the culture and trends in the world of young people, e) the dynamics of group activities and f) diversion measures and non-custodial sentences at hand (para. 112).

The European children’s rights framework 

Within the European Union (EU) article 24 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights (CFR) contains the rights of the child. Article 24 (1) CFR explains that children have the right to the protection and care that is needed for their well-being. It also sets out that children’s views shall be taken into consideration in matters that concern them in accordance with their age and maturity. Article 24 (2) CFR explains that in all actions relating to children, the children’s best interests must be a primary consideration. In 2011 the European Commission stated in its EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child that making the justice system in Europe more child-friendly is a key priority. In 2021 a renewed EU Strategy on the Rights of the Child was launched. The strategy focuses on six areas defining the priorities for EU policy making; the first concerns children’s participation. The EU intends to promote and improve the inclusive and systemic participation of children at the local, national and EU levels. 

With regard to youth justice proceedings, the Directive (EU) 2016/800 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 May 2016 on procedural safeguards for children who are suspects or accused persons in criminal proceedings (EU Directive) is of relevance. It contains procedural guarantees for young suspects. Important rights set out in this legally-binding directive are: the right to information, the right to an individual assessment, and the right to participate effectively in the trial. 

At the level of the Council of Europe, the Guidelines on Child-friendly justice (2010) play a key role in defining and implementing youth participation. The European Commission stated in its 2011 Agenda that the use of the Guidelines on child-friendly justice should be promoted and taken into account in future legal instruments.

The Guidelines give detailed recommendations to ensure child-friendly justice for all children. According to the Guidelines, child-friendly justice refers to those justice systems that guarantee to respect and effectively implement children’s rights at the highest achievable level. Consideration should be given to the maturity and understanding of the child and the circumstances of the case. 

Specific recommendations that apply to children involved in judicial proceedings include:

  1.  Information should be adapted to children’s age and maturity and should be provided in an understandable language (para. IV, A.1).
  2. When children come before a judge, it is important that their right to be heard is respected. Judges should hear the child and give due weight to their views (preferably in all matters that affect them and at least when the children understand the matters in question). Children should not be excluded from being heard based on their age. The judgments should be explained in a language that children can understand (para. IV, D.3). 
  3. Professionals who work with children should be trained on the rights and needs of children. Within this training, there should be a focus on the different age groups of children (para. IV, A.4). 
  4. In general, a multidisciplinary approach is needed, amongst others to assess the situation of the child (para. IV, A.5). 

The fundamental principles that guide child friendly justice are:

  1. Participation – including the right  to be informed, to be given appropriate ways to access justice and to be consulted and heard in proceedings involving or affecting the child.
  2. Best interests of the child as a primary consideration in all matters involving or affecting the child.
  3. Dignity, safeguarded by treating the child with care, sensitivity, fairness and respect throughout any procedure or case.
  4. Protection from discrimination on any grounds such as sex, race, colour or ethnic background, age, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, socio-economic background, status of their parent(s), association with a national minority, property, birth, sexual orientation, gender identity or other status.
  5. Rule of law, which should be applied fully to children as it does to adults. In addition, elements of due process should be guaranteed for children as they are for adults and should not be minimized or denied under the pretext of the child’s best interests.