Youth court advocacy

Communicating effectively with young people and children

This section explains how you can make sure you communicate effectively with young people and children in the youth court and help you identify if you have any learning and development needs.

The key points to remember about communicating effectively with young people and children are:

  • talk slowly, clearly and avoid complex language and terminology
  • they may say that they have fully understood what you have said to them. You can check this by asking them to explain in their own words what you have told them
  • listen to them
  • respect their confidentiality
  • address any communication learning and development needs you identify.

Why effective communication is important

Over 60% of young people and children in the criminal justice system have significant speech, language and communication needs. This means that they may not understand what you say to them or may find it difficult to get their message across. Some young people and children can also be affected by developmental disabilities. In some cases this is not immediately apparent and a young person or child will go to great lengths to conceal it.

Children did not understand legal processes or sentencing and solicitors had not explained what was happening in court in a way children could understand. In some cases children said they were not given the opportunity to speak in court even 'if a solicitor was not getting it right.'"

Children speaking out on policing and youth justice, Children’s Rights Alliance for England, October 2016

Thinking about how you communicate with a young person or child is important. It can help you:

  • better understand the facts of the case you are working on
  • build a positive relationship that encourages them to participate with you and the criminal justice process
  • spend less time managing their behaviour
  • make sure they understand your advice and the consequences of following it
  • enable them to give their instructions
  • explain to the court their communication needs and make sure appropriate adaptations are put in place so they can participate in the hearing  
  • help you meet your regulatory obligations to deliver a proper standard of work.

How you can communicate effectively

You can use the questions below to help you think about how you communicate with a young person or child. If you apply these points, it is likely that you will be communicating effectively.

Planning

Do you plan how you will talk to them? Are you clear on what you need to know, why, and how you will get this information?

Do you think about how you ask and structure your questions? In particular:

  • Do you ask short and simple questions?
  • Do you avoid forced or leading questions?
  • Do you ask one question at a time?
 

Speaking

Do you speak slowly using clear, simple language and avoid idioms?

Do you avoid using legal and technical terminology? Words like “breach” and “conditional” for example, can be difficult for young people and children to understand

Listening

Do you listen to what they say?

Do you give them time to understand what you have said and to respond?

Explaining

Do you make them aware of the really important points they need to listen to?

Do you break up complex issues into smaller chunks?

Do you clearly and simply explain their options and how each one might affect them and their future?

Do you explain as much as you can about each stage of the case to the young person even if they have been to the youth court before?

Why making sure young people and children understand you is important

Making sure that young people and children you work with fully understand your advice, the options available to them and the impact of their choices is critical.

To ensure a young person or child has fully understood what you are saying you can:

  • give positive messages for example, “It’s OK to say if you do not understand” or “it’s important you tell me if you do not understand”
  • check their understanding by asking them to repeat back to you in their own words what you have said to them
  • be proactive by saying “ I’m not sure I explained that very well, shall I explain it again?”
  • ask them what would help them understand what you are saying.

A child was asked in court if he “felt remorse” and replied “no”. After court, he asked his lawyer the meaning of “remorse”

[Carlile Inquiry, 2014, page 4]

What you can do

Part of your role is to facilitate communication between the court and the young person. It is essential that you make sure judges and magistrates ask open questions and use simple language. You may need to translate questions asked by the court or explain complex words or terms. Similar to ground rules hearings, judges and magistrates can be asked to provide their questions in advance of the hearing.

Communicating with a young person or child with a diagnosable difficulty

If you know a young person or child you are working with may have a diagnosable difficulty, it is important to take this into account. Read more about how you can adapt your communication style for young people and children with a diagnosable difficulty (PDF 8 pages, 421K).

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