A visit to: Just for Kids Law
Just for Kids Law (JfKL) is a national charity which works with and for children and young people to ensure their legal rights and entitlements are respected and promoted, and their voices heard and valued. As well as offering holistic support, JfKL also fight for wider reform, using the evidence gathered from their caseload and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child as a starting point for strategic litigation, campaigning and equipping others to fight for children’s rights.
Their Listening Fund project is focused on supporting young people to have greater input in and control over JfKL policy work, particularly that focused on school exclusions. The issue has recently gained some traction due in part to the government’s publication of the Timpson review in May 2019. However, with thousands of children still being denied their right to an education, raising awareness of the impact of exclusions and what changes young people want to see in this area remains vital.
This project is not JfKL’s first experience of co-producing policy: they also support Let Us Learn, a youth-led movement focused on improving access to higher education. In 2015, Let Us Learn successfully challenged existing student finance regulations at the Supreme Court, helping thousands of students to continue their studies at university . Despite JfKL’s experience and previous success with involving young people in policy work, the Listening Fund project is still surfacing a variety of challenges – some expected, some new – which we discussed with staff on our recent visit:
1 – participation is difficult when those whose expertise you seek have learnt not to trust adults or the systems they have established. The team at JfKL are building relationships with young people who have been excluded from education, but it is necessarily a slow process, not least because much of the work has to be undertaken on a 1:1 basis as children and young people who have been repeatedly excluded can struggle with the dynamics of group discussions.
2 – some young people don’t want to discuss how exclusion has affected them, preferring not to dwell on that part of their life. This could mean that some important voices, opinions and ideas are lost. JfKL therefore provides children and young people with the opportunity to talk with a member of staff about what they have been through and how it has affected them, with no commitment to participating in the policy work, whilst also offering different levels of engagement, allowing young people to identify what best suits them at any given time.
3 – the power dynamics learnt at school, especially for children and young people who have not enjoyed positive relationships with teachers and staff, can take a considerable amount of time to unpick. Convincing young people that they have a right to an education, and that they have a right to express their opinions on the provision of that education – and have those opinions listened to and valued, is an essential aspect of creating and supporting a sustainable, youth-led policy movement on school exclusion.
For young people who have been excluded from school, participation in policy has the potential to not only improve current procedures and practice in the education system, but also to give them confidence in their views and opinions when they have often been denied a voice during parts of their own exclusion, such as being omitted from the hearings and appeals processes which determine their access to education. On both an individual and systemic level the potential impact of JfKL’s Listening Fund work is significant, and we are excited to see how it develops.