Manifesto for Youth Inclusion


Why we are appealing to you

We, children and youth with lived experience in the justice system and deprivation of liberty, call on all actors of the justice chain to take action to promote youth participation in matters that affect us, ensuring that our perspectives and experiences inform the work of professionals within the system. Until now, our voices have gone largely unheard. Those who are affected do not get to have a say in the decision-making processes that affect them. But we say: value our voice. We can offer a lot of insights into how to improve the system, if we are given the space to do so. In our pursuit of a fair and rehabilitative youth penitentiary system, we declare the vital importance of including youth with lived experience in the development and implementation of policies and programs in the youth detention setting.

This manifesto stands as a testament to the principle of “nothing about us without us,” advocating for the active involvement of those who have navigated the complexities of the system to guide and shape the professionals responsible for its administration. The inclusion of youth with lived experience is essential for authentic representation in the development of policies, training programs, and prison guidelines. Our unique perspectives provide invaluable insights that cannot be fully understood or appreciated without our direct involvement. We recognize the profound impact that lived experiences have on shaping perspectives and understanding the challenges faced within the penal system. Moreover, when young people feel truly listened to, they experience a sense of empowerment, as if we’ve been rightfully entrusted with the helm of our own ship.

A more youth-led, impactful approach

Youth who have experienced detention firsthand possess powerful personal narratives that serve as educational and informational tools. These narratives are a bridge to empathy, fostering a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by incarcerated youth and providing crucial context for effective and compassionate intervention. This inclusivity will contribute to the creation of programs that are sensitive, effective, and responsive to the unique needs of each youth in their care.

Through open dialogue, joint workshops, and shared experiences, professionals within the criminal justice chain and youths can learn from each other, breaking down barriers and fostering mutual respect. Such environments will contribute to a culture of continuous learning and improvement within the penal system. Collaborative efforts furthermore empower youth with lived experience to be agents of change, providing them with a platform to contribute positively to society.

Trust between staff and incarcerated youth is paramount for a rehabilitative environment. Youth with lived experience can guide the development of communication strategies that build trust and encourage open dialogue, creating a supportive atmosphere conducive to rehabilitation. Additionally, integrating youth with lived experience into training programs will enhance the development of crucial skills, such as empathy and effective communication.
These skills are vital for professionals to build positive relationships with those whose care they effect, leading to more successful rehabilitation outcomes.

Selected examples based on experiences

We call for the following to be prioritized when embedding more youth-centered approaches in detention policies and practices :

Leadership and staff of youth detention centers

  • Establish collaborative learning environments that bring together criminal justice professionals and youth with lived experience. When offering capacity building trainings, think about the role of the youth expert. They have the most insightful understanding of the incarcerated youth’s experience, and this should be taken into account when developing capacity building or awareness raising programmes.
  • Run through the daily journey of the incarcerated youth, from waking up to going to sleep. How can this process be improved to ensure both the dignity and well-being of the individual? What does it mean to the youth if they cannot go to the toilet alone, but has to wait for assistance? Might it be having a bigger negative impact on them than is necessary?
  • Give youths a say in their treatment process. Young people who are incarcerated should be given the opportunity to co-create their care plan so that it is personalized to them. As is the case with the population outside of prison, mental health support requires an individualized approach.
  • Involve young people in decision-making processes regarding their education and training, in order to empower them to take ownership of their learning journey. This fosters a sense of agency and responsibility, which are essential for their personal growth and development. Education and training are vital components of successful reintegration into society after release from custody.
  • The act of subjecting young individuals to strip searches is inherently degrading and dehumanizing. Exploration of alternative measures, such as utilizing X-ray machines similar to those in airports, is imperative. At the very least, young people should be afforded the dignity of wearing a towel around their genitals or provided with a hospital gown during such procedures.

Penitentiary training academies:

  • Facilitate structural capacity building of staff led by youth with lived experience


  • Ensure youth closed facilities are well-resourced in order to promote an enabling environment wherein learning and exchange among youth and staff is imbedded in the institutional policies and practices.

Civil society with competencies related to youth participation:

  • Partner with institutions to support them in engaging with young people in inclusive and meaningful ways.

This manifesto was co-created by Tyrone (YOPE), Yasin (YOPE), Jason Miedema (YOPE), and Young Person 1, 2 and 3 from Oberstown.

You can read the and download the full manifesto here.

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. 


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.


  • 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. 


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.


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.” 


“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.

Map of promising practices

In April 2021 the Netherlands Helsinki Committee (NHC), Young Perspectives (YOPE) and the Dutch Custodial Institutions Agency started the Giving Back project. The Giving Back project strives to create meaningful youth participation by including young people with lived experiences (experienced experts) in the training of justice professionals. The main goal of Giving Back is to improve the child-friendly practices of European youth justice professionals working in Juvenile Justice Facilities (JJF’s) and to stimulate child-centred learning among European Union Member States.

Around Europe, various exciting initiatives are emerging whereby young people with lived experiences share their stories, are included, or even are the driving force behind systemic change and better care practices. One of the objectives of the Giving Back project is to increase our understanding of these participatory youth practices, with a specific focus on how young people are included in the training of justice professionals. In order to stimulate child-centred learning among European Union Member States, similar practices in Europe have been identified by setting up a mapping activity.

Picture: Members of the Giving Back consortium in Oberstown, Ireland

The mapping activity took place between July 2021 and March 2022 and was carried out by NHC and YOPE. We used a combination of methods (e.g., survey, interviews and desk-research) to reach a wide range of organisations and present qualitative insights. During the mapping activity the primary focus was to find and map proven or promising European practices that included young people in the training of justice professionals. However, after a thorough search process NHC and YOPE found very few initiatives that focused specifically on the training of youth justice professionals through participatory methods. Therefore, the decision was made to broaden the mapping activity by including participatory youth practices within a broader range of care and in decision-making processes. The Giving Back project takes a mandatory step towards prioritizing youth participation in the training of youth justice professionals.

The first result of the mapping activity is a document that presents the outcomes of the mapping activity and can be found here. The results of the mapping activity will also be presented in an interactive/visual way on an online platform that promotes the exchange of knowledge regarding the implementation of youth participation models in youth justice.

The initiatives of the mapping report can also be accessed in the map below:

Following the mapping, the YOPE team had the opportunity to visit two promising practices abroad and have a more in-depth exchange! You can see the impression of these visits below:

In November 2023, the YOPE team had the opportunity to visit ChangeFactory to learn from their methodology while sharing how YOPE engage with young people with lived experience in the justice system. The thank ChangeFactory team for the fruitful visit and exchange.

In the next month, YOPE visited the Child Advisory Board of the i-Restore project, implemented in Romania by Terre des Hommes. YOPE Expert Yasin shares his expectations and impressions of the visit (below). You can learn more about the project and their approach to youth participation in the mapping report.

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.