Social Work and Youth Justice in a Global Context: Practising in Shifting and Conflicting Paradigms

Social Work and Youth Justice in a Global Context: Practising in Shifting and Conflicting Paradigms

Bill Whyte (University of Edinburgh, UK)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6563-7.ch008

Abstract

Social work in youth justice is directed by international standards based on an implied socio-educative paradigm that conflicts with the dominant criminal justice paradigm in operation in most jurisdictions. This creates global challenges in establishing “child-centred” policy and practice for dealing with young people under the age of 18 years in conflict with the law. Social work practitioners, directed by international imperatives and professional ethics, operate between shifting and often conflicting paradigms. It is essential they are familiar with international obligations and operate as “culture carriers” providing an ongoing challenge to systems of youth justice. This chapter examines these issues and, in the absence of consensus or of a shared paradigm for social work practice across jurisdictions, considers what a socio-educative paradigm for practice might look like.
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Background

Approaches to dealing with children and young people who break the law vary much more widely across jurisdictions than the equivalent justice systems for adults. In addition to cultural and institutional differences, youth systems vary in their structures and age jurisdiction, as well as in the underlying normative and value assumptions underpinning policy and practice. Many western countries pursued youth crime policies during much of the 20th century which eroded the distinction between the young person or child in need and the delinquent youth. This is despite the growing evidence over generations that the differences between children in need and young people coming to the attention of authorities for breaking the law are far outweighed by their similarities (Committee on Children and Young Persons, 1964; Whyte, 2009).

In the early 21st century, welfare oriented approaches were often superseded by punitive law and order ideologies driven by politicians under pressure to be seen to be tough on crime (Brown, 2005). The predominance of “punishment” as a cultural response, for example, has often meant that the public framing of provision for responding to youth crime has been dominated by a language of punishment without consideration of how best to respond to the characteristics and circumstances of the young people in ways that are likely to result in positive change, contributing to the well-being and safety of the young person, victims, and the community as a whole (Whyte, 2009).

Aims and Objectives

The objectives of this chapter are to examine these issues in detail and, in the absence of a consensus or of a shared paradigm for social work practice across jurisdictions, consider the implications for social work and explore what a socio-educative paradigm for practice might look like.

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