Justice for children and young people - a rights-respecting approach: vision and priorities

This vision builds on the youth justice strategy which concluded in 2020. It represents a shared foundation between the Scottish Government and partners to continue to support the agenda to keep children out of the criminal justice system and promote the use of the Whole System Approach.

3. Outcomes and Priorities

There are a number of outcomes and priorities to be achieved to deliver on the vision and to ensure that all children and young people in Scotland are supported to achieve better outcomes in the future. This is reliant on the commitment of all, with resources and planning placed in areas which offer the supports required to make a difference.


In Scotland we want to work towards achieving the following outcomes by 2024.

  • Rights of all children are upheld and they are supported to understand what this means for them and what to expect.
  • Children and young people are supported to actively participate and engage in the decisions which affect them.
  • Victims are supported and their rights are upheld, with specific attention paid to child victims and their families.
  • Children are diverted away from the Criminal Justice System to appropriate alternative supports through the continued delivery of the Whole System Approach.
  • To the extent possible and appropriate, no under-18s are remanded or sentenced to detention a young offenders institute.
  • We have the required data and evidence on children and young people, to inform better inform policy and practice so that children and young people benefit.
  • Children and families are supported at an early stage to improve their life chances with their wellbeing and mental health needs addressed.
  • Speech, language and communication needs for all children and young people are taken in to consideration both when assessing individual needs and adapting information and communication used in formal processes.


Key priorities have been highlighted as areas to be addressed in order to meet the outcomes by 2024.

Consultation with stakeholders, children and young people was key to informing these priorities. Not only was it important to hear the views of those working directly with children and young people, but it was also important to hear from those who are most affected - the children and young people themselves. The views gathered were imperative to the development of this vision and priorities paper. Initial engagement took place with the Youth Parliament in March 2020 and in August the Scottish Government enlisted the support from the Scottish Throughcare and Aftercare Forum/Children and Young People's Centre for Justice (CYCJ) Youth Justice Voices participation project. Members of their youth-led steering group 'YouthJustUs' became Youth Justice Visionaries to develop a guide to be used by practitioners working with children and young people. They also carried out engagement sessions and sought views from children and young people including those in secure care. Children and young people in HMP&YOI Polmont were also asked for their thoughts and opinions through one-to-one phone calls and group sessions delivered by Barnardos.

Based on the evidence and information provided throughout the engagement process with both stakeholders and children and young people, the following priorities have been established.

Rights and Understanding

  • Services provided to children and their families uphold their rights, through all aspects of work, in line with UNCRC requirements and Scottish Government legislation, including monitoring services to ensure rights are being upheld.
  • Support to be offered to children and families to understand and know their rights so they can exercise them.
  • Promotion of better public understanding and awareness of children and young people in conflict with the law and the systems in place to support them.
  • For those who go through the Criminal Justice System their experience should be meaningful and participative; one which educates, improves, understands and upholds the rights of children and young people.
  • All children and young people should be able to access services to address trauma, abuse, neglect and communication needs.
  • Provision should be made to ensure professionals/services are taking into account additional support needs, including speech, language and communication needs, to improve their life chances.
  • Provide activities and opportunities for children and young people to engage in education, gain employment and to have stable housing options as a necessity.

Participation and Engagement

  • Improve participation and engagement of children and young people ensuring that they have developmentally appropriate participation opportunities to help shape the decisions, services and supports that affect them. This will include addressing barriers to engagement, providing access to information and processes in language that they understand and taking account of cultural differences or disabilities and any communication needs.


  • Information and support for victims is enhanced, considering good practice, whilst respecting data protection and confidentiality rights. This includes access to restorative justice approaches where appropriate, regardless of the age of the person responsible or the outcome of the case.
  • Support must be trauma-informed and tailored to the needs of all participants.
  • Children and young people at risk of criminal or sexual exploitation are supported through increased understanding of the nature, scale and extent of the issue and awareness raising with practitioners and communities.

Whole System Approach

  • Continue to deliver a reinforced and reinvigorated WSA to under-18s - with cohesion and integrity in all its elements, supporting the development of the workforce to deliver effective multi-agency partnerships and creating lasting systems and culture change. In particular this will involve supporting social work and wider workforce to:

develop a consistent approach to early and effective interventions;

work with those whose behaviour presents a high risk of harm to others - including embedding Care and Risk management processes.

  • To the extent possible, no under-18s are detained in young offender institutions, including those on remand, with secure care and intensive residential and community-based alternatives being used, where therapeutic trauma-informed approaches are required for the safety of the child or those around them and where community alternatives are available for those who require additional support.
  • Extend WSA to those beyond the age of 18 providing access to support up to age 26 where possible and appropriate.
  • Raise the age of referral to the Principal Reporter to 18 for all children with a presumption against under-18s in the Criminal Justice System, consistent with the Lord Advocate's prosecution policy. Where this is not possible, they must be treated in a way that is trauma-informed and recognises their age and stage of development.

Data and Evidence

  • Data on children and young people is recorded, gathered and analysed in order to evidence the need for change and guide further improvements in policy and practice and to ensure that improvements are sustained.

Early Intervention and Support

  • Children and families are supported at an early stage to assess, identify and respond to wellbeing needs, to reduce stigma and improve their life chances and outcomes.
  • Relationships are built and access to services to address adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), trauma and other challenging experiences is improved through the delivery of trauma-informed approaches, youth work, gender-based approaches and effective multi-agency partnerships.
  • All children and young people have timely access to appropriate services to address mental health issues.
  • Workforces are supported to develop and continually address the needs of children and young people in Scotland.

These priorities will be broken down into tangible actions to be delivered between June 2021 and June 2024. Details of the actions to be delivered in year one are contained within the action plan which accompanies this vision. The action plan is a live document which will evolve over the years of delivery. Whilst not everything can be achieved in year one, upholding children's rights - whether as victims or as those responsible for harm to others - will be central.

Challenges and Barriers to Success

A lack of investment and resources in services for children and young people are a barrier to achieving high quality provision in Scotland, including gaps in adequate provision such as mental health pathways for children and young people in conflict with the law, increased waiting times for mental health support, along with an inconsistent approach to delivery across Scotland.

Other challenges include 'siloed' working and information sharing issues. Structural inequalities such as poverty and discrimination are also concerns along with cultural and attitudinal barriers to how children and young people in conflict with the law are perceived and also how they are assisted based on age. A degree of flexibility is required around delivery to meet local needs, including acknowledgement around differences in rural and island services along with variations in resourcing levels and access to training.

A lack of alternatives to custody is a challenge which needs to be addressed. This includes not only alternatives to young offenders institutions for under-18s and in particular those on remand but also includes community provisions.

In order to address these challenges we need to consider the specific interventions required and how we assess wider need. We need strong partnerships and multi-agency responses and further funding and investment in this area, including wider legislative change. In order to justify such investment and shift in resources we need reliable and consistent data and intelligence to be able to understand the issues and factors facing children and young people such as life challenges, offending patterns and behaviour and the role these play in bringing children and young people into conflict with the law.

Links to Wider Landscape and Policy Development

The issues raised by children and young people coming into conflict with the law is a complex landscape which covers a vast array of overarching themes and policy drivers such as poverty, GIRFEC, community justice, safer communities, criminal justice, housing, and health. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 we have seen how quickly things can change and how practice and policy needs to be flexible to adapt in order to respond to the needs of children and young people at every point. Annex A provides details of the links between areas of interest and highlights the importance of a joined up approach to working across a number of different platforms.


Email: Youth.Justice@gov.scot

Back to top