Youngsters – profile

The youngsters you will recruit for the program will have a decisive impact in the successes of the prHow you recruit the right young experience experts will largely depend on the context you are working in. Some implementers work with their youth very closely, where others are working at more distance and therefore depend more on the cooperation and insight of third parties and on selection interviews.

They really listen to me, I could really see that they listen to me.

Jason – Experience expert – Youthlab trainer, Netherlands

Youth that benefit from exchanging with justice professionals often share similar qualities and features: 

  • Keen on telling their story: Youngsters who participate in the YouthLab are intrinsically motivated to join. They want to share their stories and communicate what they have been through in life. They feel the urge to get it off their chest, to step up and share their story in a constructive way. It’s their hope that others will learn from it.
  • Keen on taking the stage: A suitable young candidate is typically recognized by showing a certain ease taking a stand and sharing their opinion in a group. Potential participants most often stand out for their presence, for taking initiative and sometimes aiming to be the leader of the group. He or she is not scared to speak up, even if no-one in the room shares their thoughts. 
  • Is mostly from a long term stay group (in youth detention): Over 70 percent of our members have spent several years in youth detention, mostly between one and four years. Their main motivation to join is that they are done with their (previous) criminal life, going in and out of prison. They want to make a change both for themselves and for others by sharing their story. So that they can be an example for r young people and help them make different life-choices and make a switch to a life without criminality. 
  • Is someone who engaged with many guardians, social workers and therapists: The youngsters might have been in the judicial or childcare-services for many years of their young life. They might have had contact with social workers and therapists and received treatments while serving their time inside. These experiences – some good, others really bad – are all part of the motivation and eagerness for the youngsters to participate in the programme. They are motivated to make a change to the system, not thinking  “screw it”, but i stead aiming for their voices and experiences to be heard. 
  • Is someone with a critical view on the judicial and childcare-services: Having been in “the system” for a long time, experiencing both positive and negative events, typical participants have a critical view on how things are run. However, rather than opposing themselves to the system, they aim to make a change by sharing their critical view. Participants are trained to bring across their messages in a constructive way.  Also, they do take the system and its rules seriously, and do not necessarily deny the challenges professionals deal with in working with youngsters. But with their experiences they want to shed a different light, sharing their point of view – which may be an eye opener and a valuable insight for professionals. 
  • Is curious: Young participants that benefited from the programme are more often than not curious and eager to learn about how the judicial system came to be as it is now. They are open to have a look at it from a different point of view. Hence, they want to hear from justice professionals what it  is like to do their jobs and how their decision-making works in difficult cases.
  • Is between 18 and 25 year old: Most participants are between 18 and 25 years old. Most youngsters at this age have developed a certain distance to their story, becoming adults and leaving detention. They look at their younger selves with a helicopter view, which helps them to tell their story in a constructive and reflective way. 

Youth’s motivation to join YouthLab

It is perfectly clear for us what the benefits of participating in exchange with youth are for justice professionals and for the system in which they work. As is stated by the European Commission in 2011 in the EU Agenda for the Rights of the Child, making the justice system in Europe more child-friendly is a key priority. Being trained by young experts to learn about their needs, language and point of view, is one important step towards achieving this piority.

But what is in it for the youngsters? What do they win from going into exchange with representatives of the justice system? Years of close collaboration with youth made us recognize the following motivations for young experts to join:

They want to make a positive contribution by sharing their story

Several youngsters have experienced many just and unjust events after a (long) time in detention. It’s our experience that they want to express what has happened to them, to get it off their chest. They are being trained to share their honest experiences in a constructive way. This enables them to be heard – a basic need of all. Sharing their experiences allows their stories not to be wasted, but instead to make a positive contribution.

They enjoy using creativity as tool for equal communication

Creativity is a major pillar in the impactful exchanges between youngsters and justice professionals. It allows them to meet as equals, since most creative forms are no more familiar to professionals than to youth. Therefore, we encourage both professionals and youngsters to connect through creative forms. Depending on the creative approaches used in your programme, youngsters could get the opportunity to express themselves through rap or spoken word. Creativity allows them to tell their story in a language that empowers them.

What motivates me in this project is being able to see professionals in a different light, in a better light, being able to communicate without this hierarchical relationship, even if the respect remains present. I also like the fact that I can share what I have experienced, knowing that I will be listened to and that it will help other young people.

Young Trainer, Belgium

It makes them part of a supporting community

When being released after many years, youngsters might lack a sense of community. Being on a programme together with like-minded experience experts and under guidance of people that stand up for their needs, helps them to establish communal relations. They share experiences with each other and they grow as a team. Together they explore a new path and find new directions in life – without criminality.

They become a role model

The first and main motivation for youngsters to join turns out to be the opportunity to be an example and a voice for other youth. By sharing their story, they can speak up and explain how being inside detention has had an impact on them. It gives them a chance to demonstrate how to make a change and choose a different path in life. By sharing their story and learning to ask for help, they learn to open up, for new opportunities but also for support.

They get new work experiences and build a network

We believe it is crucial that youth gets paid a reasonable fee for sharing their perspectives with justice professionals. Paying a fee on top of expenses communicates that we take the youngsters seriously and that their experience and time are of true value. Also, it adds to perceived equality in the exchange with professionals. It goes without saying that the financial arrangement in itself is an important stimulus for the youngsters to show up but that doesn’t mean their engagement is uniquely about the money – as all the other motivations show.

The possibility/experience of healing

By telling their story in a creative and constructive manner, the youngsters experience a sense of healing – even if indirectly. This has been expressed by several youngsters! They explain how sharing their experiences with many people in different settings helped them process. Some even stated that it helped them understand how their lives had unfolded as it did so far. Without explicitly aiming for a sense of healing, we indirectly facilitate a safe space for the youngsters to share and process their story.

Before, I thought the professionals were like robots who wanted to punish me. It sounds stupid perhaps, but now I realise they are human too.

Jason – Experience expert, Netherlands
Hugo, youth from Belgium, speaks about his experience with the YouthLab

Moving forward: step-by-step

When developing our facilitating programme towards youth-x-justice exchanges between young experience experts and justice professionals, we were heavily inspired by the Lundy model of child participation.

This model was developed by academic Laura Lundy, Professor of international children’s rights at the School of Education at the Queen’s University of Belfast, in 2007[1]. Her model provides a way of conceptualising a child’s right to participation, as laid down in Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

What makes the Lundy model of such great value is the way in which it explains how exchanges are established so that they are ‘meaningful and effective’ in terms of youth participation. It anchors that the voice of the youth is not only being listened to, but also given due weight and actually influencing decision-making and policies and that is super important! Not only for reasons of effectiveness and impact, but also to prevent the youngsters from having (yet another) disappointing experience with representatives of the justice system.

The Lundy model identifies four elements for meaningful youth participation: space, voice, audience and influence. Young in Prison adapted this model for the YOuthLab and added ‘intent’ as a fifth element for meaningful participation – which has proven valuable for other partners implementing the model.

We encourage you to use this extended version of the Lundy model as a compass, as you progress designing youth-x-justice exchanges within your context. Ask yourself: Did you make sure all five elements are taken care of sufficiently? If not, how can you strengthen then?

  1. Lundy, L. (2007) ‘Voice’ is not enough: conceptualising Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights o the Child ( 

Justice professionals – profile

When a young person is involved in the judicial system, they will come in contact with a large number of professionals. Each one of them can have an impact on their trajectory – either positive or negative. For this reason, the Youthlab aims to reach a diverse range of judiciary and (forensic) youth care professionals.

Justice professionals who could benefit from our Youthlab training, are professionals who

  • either play structural role in the process of a youngster and have direct working-relationship with them, while residing in closed facility and/or after release – such as: pedagogical workers/group workers or probation officers or therapists;
  • have a large impact on the lives of a youngster by their decision-making, such as judges and prosecutors;
  • might have a large impact by their approach and interacting with youngsters at the start of their arrest/trial or in the neighborhood, like police officers.

While the professional’s profile varies and should not determine their ability to participate in the exchanges, the willingness to go the extra miles and eagerness to learn have proven to be positive during the exchanges and afterwards

As adults, we always presume to teach young people, but this time it was they who taught us something, in fact a great deal.

Lawyer – Youth x Professional Exchange participant, Italy

Justice professionals meet and hear many different young people in conflict with the law, in their line of work. They often have complex professional roles, with a high workload and many (if not all!) exceptional cases. This might cause the professionals to simply lack the time to get involved in the lives/stories of the youngster, even though they might truly want to know and see the importance of their perspective.

When getting involved in the Youthlab, we underline that the aim of the initiative is to foster an understanding of the youngster that goes beyond their file. An understanding that is characterized by the perspective, needs and experiences of the youngster. Through the youth-x-justice exchanges, the juniors inspire the professionals to always be reminded that every youngster has its own life story.

The exchange sessions are a safe space and learning environment for both youngsters and professionals, to share and learn from each other’s perspectives, roles and responsibilities in the proces. The aim is to invite and encourage the professional to always try to see/understand through the eyes of the youngster, making that extra mile to understand their needs and help to find its way towards his best path in life.

Moreover, the conversations that professionals can have with the experienced experts in the session help them understand the language and reasoning of young people as well. The language of youngsters, especially with street slang, is often misunderstood and their behavior misinterpreted. Young people get the opportunity to explain to professionals why they think it’s best to use their right to remain silent or what’s actually happening within them behind the (sometimes) closed or indifferent attitude.

Facilitator – profile

The role of YouthLab facilitator (also called senior trainer by different implementing partners) is  essential for a successful program. The role includes the training of youngsters as experience experts (also called Junior member or Junior Trainer) and the facilitation of  the youth x justice exchanges. 

Both training and facilitating are  intense and often emotionally taxing. Facilitators understand the role of constructive conflict and tension and are able to at all times offer a space where all participants feel respected and confident to meaningfully exchange. 

Below are some important features of a  YouthLab facilitator: 

  • A connector: The YouthLab facilitator is able to connect and translate between the world (and lived experience) of young people and the systemic world of these justice professionals. The facilitator aims to put emphasis on both the complexity of their profession, but also challenge them to truly listen, to understand the stories and impact of the experiences of the young people with(in) the justice system. 
  • A creative thinker: Because the training is built on creative methods, the facilitator ideally has past experience in a creative discipline, like spoken word or storytelling. By opening the training with spoken word, the facilitator sets an example in opening up/being vulnerable, and thereby encouraging young people to share their experiences with professionals in the following stages of the training. 
  • A mentor: For the YouthLab juniors, the facilitator is their coach who guides them through the training. They might have certain agreed rules or signs between each other, if the tension or emotions runs up too high for a youngster. On the other hand, the facilitator navigates on a neutral ground during the session, so both parties get the space and opportunity to voice their opinions. The facilitator always makes sure the youngsters have the final word, to close a topic with youngsters, yet in a positive and constructive manner.

In Short

The facilitator should have experience and/or feel confident in:

  • providing training for professionals, and for young people;
  • understanding of judicial system/world, through perspective of young people and professionals;
  • thinking and acting creatively and feeling comfortable to take the stage;
  • coaching  young people. 
Lamym, YouthLab faciliator in Netherlands

Getting professionals onboard


The YouthLab exists by virtue of allies—only through their agreement can training be included in the curricula. Therefore, analysing your network of stakeholders and understanding who can help you further is essential.

Secondly, the YouthLab YouthLab also depends on sufficient inflow of young participants: these are youths who, before they joined the Youthlab, were situated in places (like juvenile detention centers) which are difficult to reach. The following types of allies can help us with that:

Inviting a (normative & institutional) heavy weight representative

It isn’t out of the question that prosecutors will be trained by a youth which they convicted—that could be cause for hesitation within the ranks of, for example, the Public Prosecution Service. The Dutch YouthLab made a lot of headway, when, at the first YouthLab gathering, the highest chief of the Public Prosecution Service played such an important role. He was impressed and truly appreciated. Afterwards, he professed an inclination to having ‘something like that’ on a structural basis. This was a crucial moment: thanks to the commitment of a ‘normative heavyweight’ all the hesitation within the organization could be overcome. At the same time however, this commitment did not mean that everything had been taken care of.

Finding our way through the organization with someone who believes in the project

Once normative commitment has been established, the search for a suitable location begins. In The Netherlands, it took one-and-a-half years before the YouthLab was housed in the training center for prosecutors and judges. It was brought there by a ‘nationwide coordinating specialist’, who was substantially responsible for the topic of youth affairs. This was not a heavyweight in the sense mentioned earlier, but someone with a ‘sick network’. We met this person for coffee multiple times, because it wasn’t clear beforehand where YouthLab would fit in. We had many meetings and try-outs, but oftentimes it was not a ‘perfect fit’. This changed when we got the idea to just organize something.

Carefully composing the selection of your first try-out

In the Netherlands there are ‘regular’ juvenile prosecutors and ‘coordinating juvenile prosecutors’. We put members of the second group and the well-connected and involved professional together in one room for their first YouthLab training. The training was enjoyable, and a real success: many of the participants still often refer back to it. Young in Prison Netherlands put a lot of (its own) money in it. The pre-selection, it turned out, was the perfect group of ambassadors to awaken the will of the entire potential target population.

Losing your specialness and making a jump into the routine-machine called bureaucracy

Looking back, the real driving force for the Dutch YouthLab came from a place we least suspected: the scheduler of the training courses for prosecutors. When the highest chief, the networker, and the influential pre-selection came together and finally found room to offer the training on a regular basis, YouthLab training was suddenly pre-scheduled 3 years in advance. Just like that, YouthLab had transformed from something ‘special’ into ‘something to be scheduled’. At the same time, the financial foundation of the YouthLab grew; it also became easier to gain the support of equity funds, as they were now signing up for something which would continue to yield visible results. To this day, the Dutch YouthLab has been scheduled 2 to 3 year in advance in the organization’s calendars. In this way, the YouthLab can also guarantee to the youth that there will be sufficient activities and assignments for them in the future.

Regaining your specialness by inviting others: what do they see

YouthLab is an event, but it is also something that has a real impact on people. That second component requires observation and language to make explicit. As soon as the YouthLab starts growing, it is prudent to find allies in the scientific community, so as to be able to put into words the impact that YouthLab has as strongly as possible.

And inviting those who want, but do not dare (yet)

The four people/roles mentioned above succeeded each other in the following sequence: through the chief, YiP NL worked its way down to the routine workings of the organization. Subsequently, we shared this story with everybody who would listen. There too we were also often greeted with a mixture of enthusiasm and hesitation. For these groups we turned our regular training sessions with the Public Prosecution Service into an outing—on the condition that they actively participated in the sessions. In this way, they could experience for themselves the significance of such a training. But more importantly: they could see the commitment of a partner from another part of the judiciary chain. Very frequently, we heard the following argument repeated: “The Public Prosecution Service is doing it too!” And afterwards these people would start looking for commitment in their own organization.

Some practical steps

When organizing the training, make sure to have an online registration (with a clear deadline) in order to easily communicate with all participants. Before the training, send an email to all participants thanking them for their registration and requesting them to communicate in case of cancellation – in case you have more registration than spots, you can create a reserve list. The email should also contain the basic logistic information or online meeting room link, the main purpose of the training and sessions timeline. Depending how far apart the sessions are, a friendly reminder might also be helpful.

Prep, set, go!

For organizations implementing the YouthLab for the first time, a few practical steps can help you move forward in a sustainable and strategic way.

Preparatory phase

As an initial phase, identify or recruit a YouthLab Coordination – whose role entails supporting the youngsters, moderating the training sessions and liaising institutional host. From there, you can explore the different elements of the project, starting with:

  • Defining the criteria for the selection of the experience experts who will be leading the training sessions (youngsters);
  • Mapping and networking with justice professionals (training participants).

Finally, you should develop communication and outreach materials to explain the project to the different target audience.

Recruitment Phase:

Once a ‘wishlist’ of youngsters and justice professionals has been defined, it is time to approach them and introduce the project. Hopefully, you will manage to secure enough commitment from both groups. See more information on the recruitment process here.

A contract should be signed between the organization and the youngsters. The contract should lay out the responsibilities of both parties, as well as the benefits provided to youngsters. It is also important to include an Informed Consent and Release form in line with the national and international regulations on privacy and personal data protection.

Post-Exchange phase:

A positive way to make the youngsters’ participation more meaningful and sustainable is by providing them with a YouthLab certificate. In addition, when they have participated in several exchanges and have had the opportunity to become familiar with the work of your organization, it is encouraged to invite them to join other initiatives outside of the project. Those can involve consulting on strategic issues, organizing youth consultations or participating in awareness raising activities.

CASE STUDY: YouthLab development – reconstruction of the process

The Dutch YouthLab piloted by Young in Prison (YiP) did not start with the ambition to the become what it currently is. On the contrary: ‘YouthLab’ was the name given to a one-off conference, where previously incarcerated youth presented a concept for an alternative youth prison of their own creation to a large audience. This conference generated attention and momentum, partially thanks to media coverage.

However, the media attention given to the event was not unanimously appreciated and , in fact, caused some trouble for the organization: the youth prison sector director wrote an open letter as a ‘rebuttal’ to the viewpoints presented by the youngsters.On the other hand, the chief of the Dutch Public Prosecution Service, who also attended the conference, really enjoyed the discussion with the youths. In short, the conference generated a lot of buzz – some of it positive, some of it negative. At that moment, YiP still believed that the YouthLab would be finished after the conference.

Managing the unexpected demand:
from meeting the demand towards professionalizing

After the conference, YiP received several phone calls from professionals, requesting the youths to ‘think along’ about some topics. Supported by YiP’s facilitation, the young experts accepted the offer under the condition of being compensated for the service.

They accepted many of the proposed assignments, but often did not have a good idea of where they would end up; for that reason they were always accompanied by someone from YiP. In order to better address the growing demand, YiP started training the youngsters – this was the start of the leadership program.

Trying without knowing, but: being present.
Trying and noticing: this is it!

At this point, the YouthLab suddenly had a leadership course, but it did not yet have any well-established training routines. This changed when the Public Prosecution Service asked YiP and the experience experts for a one day outing with their coordinating juvenile prosecutors. Together with some teachers, YiP turned this into a training day, and when the team realized that this could become a recurring thing, they also invited the chief of the Public Prosecution Service—after all, he was really keen on the conference. He accepted the offer – that was the birth of YouthLab in its current form.

To be more precise: when the chief of the Public Prosecution left, he mentioned to his associates: ‘We should do this more often.’ That was followed-up by an email from him requesting that the agency structurally allocated budget for the YouthLab. Thanks to that meeting, the enthusiasm of the ‘original group’, and the commitment of a prominent figure within the Public Prosecution Service, the first training routine found its way into the teacher’s curriculum.

It also became easier to convince other institutions to join after that. When the number of assignments increased, YiP was financially in a position to appoint a permanent supervisor, who could guide the experience experts the entire year through. At that moment, YouthLab had grown, almost by accident, from just an event with buzz surrounding it into a fully fledged part of the operations of YiP.