JUSTice CLOSER to Children and their Families (Just Closer)
Project co-funded by the European Union Justice Programme 2021-2027, JUST-JACC-2021, under Grant Agreement No 101056657
Defence for Children International Italy (Coordinator); University of Genoa, (Scientific Responsible Prof. Laura Carpaneto); Universitat De Valencia; Young Perspectives (The Netherlands); University of Amsterdam (The Netherlands); Greek Ministry of Justice (Greece).
Duration: 1.1.2022 – 30.06.2024 (24 months)
When a child comes in contact with the justice system, she/he enters a new and intimidating world, with specific logic, rhythms and language, which are very far from the child’s own reality. As a result, most children feel alienated and lost, feeling that the justice system is not based on their needs and rights and not aimed at a true and comprehensive rehabilitation, but mere punishment. This fact has a negative impact on their wellbeing, self-esteem, contact with professionals, perception of fairness of the procedures and ability to participate, accept and understand the outcomes. In fact, most national juvenile justice systems, even where compliant with European and national legislation, are still often very distant from the needs, perspectives and claims of children. There is a practical gap between children’s rights, needs and views and the operation of juvenile justice, largely connected with the inability of adults to inform and hear children and to take their views into full consideration. Children feel they do not have space and opportunity to communicate and to express their views. Moreover, professionals working in the juvenile justice system find it challenging to engage and communicate with children, because of the split reality they are working in: the legal world and the world of the child with its own language, norms and values.
In order to address these issues, there is the need to strengthen child-friendly language and communication and to promote children’s right to participation throughout the criminal justice process. Child-friendly communication skills of professionals emphasize respect, demonstrate that young people are taken seriously and treated fairly and give them the means to increase control of their own case and life, where the right to participation increases ownership of their actions and promotes the necessary self-esteem to evolve and transform a negative episode in an empowering experience with the potential to shape a better future.
The implementation of the project JUST CLOSER will contribute to making the justice system closer to the rights and needs of children who are suspects and/or accused persons of crimes by promoting effective participation of children in criminal proceedings concerning them, in accordance with Directive (EU) 2016/800, while fostering training of professionals and harmonization of practices in the field of juvenile justice in the EU territory.
JUST CLOSER aims at strengthening the respect of the procedural rights of children and youth in conflict with the justice system by valuing their voices and recommendations and promoting their active participation, while creating a child hub of positive role models and reinforcing skills of professionals working with and for children.
To give children the possibility to express their doubts, complaints, request information, claim their rights freely and receive adequate support from independent and supportive professionals and experienced peers.
To create opportunities for officials and professionals in the criminal justice systems of the participating countries to hear the views of children and to engage with them in a constructive exchange on experiences and recommendations to promote the progressive implementation of national and EU law in this field.
To strengthen cooperation among different European stakeholders foreseeing children’s active participation as a key variable in the respective national systems and to contribute to the harmonisation of practice in relation to the relevant legislation in different Member States and in view of EU law.
To identify gaps and strengths of the existing legal framework at EU as well as at national levels and at the same time contribute to the harmonisation of practices.
Through a set of integrated and comprehensive activities, the project JUST CLOSER aims at contributing to giving children the possibility to express their doubts and complaints, request information, claim their rights freely and receive adequate support (right to information, right to be heard, right to address complaints), by providing a space where children and youth can engage to build up a safer and more harmonious way out from the justice system, to create spaces in the justice system able to receive, reflect on and put into practice children’s and youth orientations as well as provisions of the EU acquis on children’s rights in criminal proceedings, to foster cooperation among professionals working with children that are suspects or accused persons, to strengthen cooperation among different European stakeholders and ultimately, to contribute to the harmonisation of practices in relation to the relevant legislation in different Member States.
In particular, activities will include:
Set up of group of Youth Leaders (YT&A group) - composed of young people who have had experience within the penal system act as researchers, trainers and role models for other young people - will be involved in the following activities:
1) Accompanied by senior staff members, the YT&A team will conduct a series of consultations among young people and adolescents who are still involved in criminal proceedings in order to gather their perspectives on the implementation of EU directives. This will be done through a variety of participatory and youth-led research methods, such as interviews, creative workshops, focus groups, etc.
2) At the same time, this group will set up as a peer support group to support other young people involved in criminal proceedings to better understand their rights, the juvenile justice system, its strengths and weaknesses when it comes to recognising certain relevant safeguards.
3) As part of these activities, the voices, perspectives and messages of children and young people will be collected and launched in the form of a series of podcasts.
4) In WP3, YT&A will be involved in the training of professionals working in the justice sector, stimulating their reasoning on the practical implementation of children's rights, discussing the elements that characterise a "juvenile-friendly justice system", trying to identify together the main gaps and possible proposals that could improve the juvenile justice system. Some professionals will become voluntary "ambassadors" of the project, intervening as testimonials in short videos/podcasts to be disseminated widely.
The commitment of the YT&A group will be adequately supported financially in order to ensure effective and professional participation.
Other activities include the training of professionals, the elaboration of national and European Report and Elaboration of a Guide to Good Practice on Directive 2016/800 (containing the Letter of Rights): The Guide covers areas of good practices in which professional action is required to guarantee child involved in criminal law human rights and wellbeing. The Letter will be target to children involved in criminal proceedings to inform them about their rights, in compliance with art. 4 of the Directive 2016/800.
Lastly, a group of professionals involved in the trainings will become ambassadors of the project.
Disclaimer excluding Commission responsibility - The content of the Just Closer Project (JUST-JCOO-AG-2021-101056657), and its deliverables, amongst which this webpage, represents the views of the author only and is his/her sole responsibility. The European Commission does not accept any responsibility for use that may be made of the information it contains.