Making a Real Difference in Young People’s Lives

11 December 2012 News

NICCY report shows how significant adults are ‘legends’ for children and young people in conflict with the law

THE Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People’s (NICCY) Chief Executive, Mairéad McCafferty, today warned that young people in contact with the justice system need support to change their lives.

Launching a report on how certain adults can make a significant impact on these young people’s lives, Ms McCafferty said that a supportive approach can make a real difference to their future opportunities and welfare.

“We have to look beyond a young person’s behaviour to examine the circumstances that contributed to their offending and support them to make more positive decisions,” said the NICCY Chief Executive. “It is clear that one significant adult in a young person’s life can make a real difference.”

NICCY Shes a Legend report launch 11 Dec 12 - web.jpg

The Report – called ‘She’s a Legend’: – The Role of Significant Adults in the Lives of Children and Young People in Contact with the Criminal Justice System’ explores how relationships with social, youth and community workers, teachers and volunteer mentors can positively impact on young people’s lives and divert them away from the justice system.

Ms McCafferty continued “It is vital that organisations, which provide children and young people with one-to-one support, are given sustainable, long-term funding to enable them to deliver this, through a child centred and community based approach.”

“The legacy of the Troubles in Northern Ireland means that violence continues to play a major role in many of these children and young people’s lives” said Ms McCafferty. “They may also experience poverty, family breakdown, mental health problems, drugs, alcohol, domestic violence and negative peer influence.

“As a result they struggle in education and training, are often excluded from the job market, and find it difficult to develop and sustain positive relationships with adults and peers.“

Report co-author, Dr Linda Moore commented: “One young person explained how violence in their home had influenced their behaviour outside home, made it difficult for them to confide in and trust adults and contributed to them getting into conflict with the law.”

“In such cases, where a young person may have no one to turn to, a significant adult is vital in encouraging mutual trust and respect and supporting them in many ways. This may include developing key skills such as making telephone calls or appointments and facilitating their rights to access education, health services and accommodation.”

 NICCY Chief Executive, Mairéad McCafferty concluded: “The young people who participated in the study want to improvetheir lives and make positive choices, despite their experiences and the many barriers confronting them.

 “This determination, coupled with the support of a significant adult can positively influence their situation, build resilience and help to divert them away from the criminal justice system.


 Notes to Editors

About the report:

  • The report authors are: Agnieszka Martynowicz and Dr. Linda Moore (University of Ulster) and Dr. Azrini Wahidin (Queen’s University Belfast)
  • The  report ‘She’s a Legend – The role of significant adults in the lives of children who are in contact with the criminal justice system’ presents the findings of a small-scale study undertaken with children and young people and the adults coming into their lives in the context of their contact with the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland.
  • A significant adult is an adult other than a parent or guardian and may include social workers, youth workers, community workers, community educators, teachers and volunteer mentors who are helpful to young people in their daily living situation or support them to achieve their goals.
  • 20 children and young people were interviewed; five girls and young women and 15 boys and young men, all aged 14 to 25, apart from one older participant who was 30. Interviews were also conducted with 22 workers and volunteers who were identified as significant adults, in that they played valuable/important support roles in the lives of children and young people in a variety of settings, through education and training and employment programmes and youth justice and custodial settings.
  • The young people who participated in the study had either been in conflict with the law, or were considered ‘at risk’ of offending and so had been referred for support and/or supervision to one of a number of voluntary or statutory organisations. Some young people were involved in the different projects on a voluntary basis.