Using creative approaches

Creativity is a key element of the YouthLab program and in the youth x justice exchanges. Several activities are adopted to facilitate an open and safe environment, in which both experienced experts and justice professionals feel compelled to actively participate.

You can bring other exercises into your YouthLab, adapting them to the context and topics of each session.

Below are some of the exercises adopted by partners:

Quiz Ice-breaker

This quiz focuses on the perceptions that society has of young people based on several quotes about the educational level of youth. These quotes come from an education manual and belong to different historical periods. The objective of the quiz is to guess the period to which each quote belongs. The writing style is standardized to keep the content only, which allows participants to realize that the perception of the educational level of young people has not changed much over the years: contemporary young people are usually considered to be less well educated than the previous generation.

This allows us to draw attention to this recurrent bias that any person can reproduce in their reactions to the behaviors of young people. This exercise can be replicated with any images, stereotypes or attitudes that are associated with the “deviant” behaviors of youth through different historical periods.

Auto-biographic exercise

The auto-biographic exercise can be proposed at the beginning of a training cycle to facilitate the introduction of the various participants and serve as an ice-breaker, and/or at the beginning of each session to encourage participants’ involvement. The exercise can also be adapted to match the focus theme and format of each session – either in-person or online.

The autobiographical exercise begins with the facilitator inviting participants to take a few moments of meditation in order to recall a significant event in their lives. The specific question should be related in some way to the topic that will be covered during the session. For example: a moment in your childhood/adolescence where you felt the protagonist, or a moment where you felt in danger, or an object that is relevant to you.

Participants should always be reassured by the facilitator that they will not have to share their thoughts or memories with other participants if they do not want to; they will just have to meditate, recall the specific moment/thing and choose a key word that represents this memory.

If the session is in-perso, the trainer asks the participants to write down a keyword on a post-it sticker and to stick it to the flip chart. When all participants have completed this task, the trainer reads the key words out loud one by one and, after each keyword, invites the participant who has written it down to take the floor to explain or comment on it – if they wish to. After that, the person can introduce themselves.

If the session is online, the trainer asks the participants to write the keywords into the chat of the video-conferencing platform or in a digital interactive whiteboard. When all participants have written their keywords, the trainer calls them one by one to comment on it and to introduce themselves. The trainer creates thereby a map of the participants’ contributions, experiences and reflections during the interactive session. At the end of the exercise, the trainer takes a screenshot of the virtual white board. This material could be made available to the participants and/or be stored in a shared place.

Normally the facilitator starts communicating their keyword and should be the first to speak to set a template for others to follow. These types of exercises can be dense with emotion, so it is important that the group understands that it is in a safe space, in order to feel free to express themselves safely.

Brainstorming on problems & resources in the juvenile criminal justice system

According to the Guidelines of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on child-friendly justice,

“Child-friendly justice” refers to justice systems which guarantee the respect and the effective implementation of all children’s rights at the highest attainable level, bearing in mind the principles listed below and giving due consideration to the child’s level of maturity and understanding and the circumstances of the case.[…]”

In this exercise, each Child-friendly justice principle is briefly explained and discussed with participants, who are asked to contribute with personal experiences that are connected with this specific principle. The principles are: accessible, age appropriate, speedy, diligent, adapted to and focused on the needs and rights of the child, respecting the rights of the child including the rights to due process, to participate in and to understand the proceedings, to respect for private and family life and to integrity and dignity

These personal stories could be gathered and used during the training sessions as an example when explaining-child friendly justice to other professionals, collected in a publication or used to inspire the screenplay of the role-playing.

Role Playing I

In this exercise, a hypothetical case is shared with participants. For instance, it could be an arrest by the police, a hearing at the court, or an interview with the social worker. To divide the roles, each participants’ name is written on a card. Then cards are drawn randomly and each participant is given a role. The role playing could be recorded so that it can be used as training material during the courses, soliciting a discussion among participants. This exercise should bring out a number of critical issues in the system and awareness in participants.

Example of case:

Subject: Andrea Rossi, born in Pisa on 7 July 2003, detained on pre-trial custody – preliminary hearing in front of the judge. Present also Andrea’s defendant, the social worker , Andrea’s educator at the detention center, and Andrea’s mother.

Background information: Andrea is a 17 years old boy, he is at his second arrest for theft. His family history is complex: Andrea lived with his mother and two younger brothers (4 and 7 years old) until he was 15 years old. The parents are separated and the father lost his parental authority following complaints of mistreatment against both the mother and the children. Following different orders of the Juvenile Court, the social services proceed with Andrea’s placement in a community. All attempts are unsuccessful and Andrea returns to his mother. However, she is not able to manage the problems of the boy who presents a picture of immaturity combined with the use of substances (cannabinoids, cocaine and alcohol). In this framework, the boy starts committing small crimes and ends up involved in the robbery of a supermarket. The boy is caught in flagrante delicto with two other boys (one of whom was already an adult). At the time Andrea was visibly altered by substance abuse. Andrea’s first offense, which occurred in 2019, saw him involved, again with three other peers, in the theft of a motorcycle. The boy is currently detained, awaiting trial, in a Detention Center. The decision was determined by the previous unsuccessful placements in the community, the need to remove Andrea from the peer group and also to remove him from his family, currently unable to take care of him properly. Andrea proves to be very self aware in addressing all aspects of his life, from substance abuse, to family experiences, sexual identity, and the reason for his arrest. Not only does he not appear to be oppositional but in fact, from the very first interview, he expresses a clear request for help.

Role playing II

Part of the training program is dedicated to learning about police interviewing techniques and non-violent communication. The choice of the subject of communication between the police and the youth allows the participants (lawyers, magistrates and social workers) to have sufficient distance from their own role, while addressing the communication techniques in a concrete and practical way.

After a theoretical presentation, the professionals are divided into groups and invited to perform a scene with the youth to practice the listening techniques learned. In each group, one person is responsible for observing the play and describing the different listening styles and their effect on the communication dynamic.

Analyzing creative writing

Depending on their interests and creative orientations, young facilitators are invited to express themselves about their experiences with justice professionals in different ways. For some youth, the most comfortable means of expression is writing. These writings can then be shared with professionals during training sessions. Youth facilitators are responsible for leading the discussion by giving the floor to participants to read the different parts of the story and asking questions to check their understanding of the youth’s perspective in each situation or interaction described. All participants are invited to contribute to the discussion. When the youth feel more comfortable telling their stories orally, they can record a text that will be analyzed in the same way as the written materials.

Another type of creative support used is photographs. You can use photographs that have been taken by young people in detention during a previous project. These photographs are selected by the youth facilitators based on the messages they wish to convey to the participants.They are then presented to the participants by one of the youths, who uses them as a support to explain the aspects that seem important in the experience during detention. Through the photos, some youngsters will for example underline the importance of leisure time shared with the educators, the learning of domestic chores, the value of being in contact with nature, etc.

Working with a common tool

Using project management tools such as SWOT analysis, and problem and solution trees, participants and youth are asked to work in groups to analyze the most important problems in youth work and their effects on communication between youth and professionals.

In the case of the problem and solution tree, the starting point is the identification of a central problem (the tree trunk), after which the participants discuss and define its causes (the roots) and consequences (the leaves). Once this brainstorming and classification of information is completed, each team reflects on the solutions to be provided to improve key aspects of the youth experience with justice. Each group presents its analysis to the rest of the participants.

The final product is the common reflections of the young people and those of the professionals, making it possible to bring together the points of view and to synthesize the lessons learned during the previous sessions.