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Just for Kids Law was founded in 2006 by two youth justice lawyers, Shauneen Lambe and Aika Stephenson, who recognised that their clients needed more than legal representation – they also needed support to address the issues that had led them into the criminal justice system in the first place: homelessness, difficulties at school, issues with immigration status, or problems accessing statutory services or benefits.
Since our first youth advocate was appointed in 2008, our advocacy team has been at the heart of everything we do. Our youth advocates work directly with children and young people to make sure that their wishes and feelings are heard by the professionals working with them, as well as helping them to access legal support and other specialist services they need to resolve the multiple challenges they face. The long-term aim of our advocacy is to empower young people to advocate for themselves.
Our youth advocates work with children and young people between the ages of 10 and 25 with issues relating to:
- Housing and homelessness
- Social services
- Immigration and residency status
- Criminal justice
- Family, including for young parents
Youth advocates can help young people to have their voice heard by attending meetings with them, speaking to service-providers on their behalf, helping them to navigate complex systems and putting them in touch with lawyers and other professionals to make sure they get the support they need. The young person is always at the centre of the process, with their wishes and feelings directing the support they receive.
The nature of our individual casework is holistic, both in the way that it provides support for multiple areas of need that a young person has, and in the way that young people are supported by a team of advocates, lawyers and youth opportunities workers who are co-located to provide a joined-up package of help, with the youth advocate as their main point of contact.
In 2018 we commissioned an independent evaluation of our advocacy service. The evaluation concluded that our casework model had unique benefits for children and young people:
By allowing the young people to see a Youth Advocate without any time limitation, on any issue they wished and being able to see the same person every time, the programme allowed young people to feel supported in a way they had not felt supported before by other agencies and organisations.
The evaluation highlighted positive outcomes including less isolation, improved well-being and an increased understanding of rights, and noted that young people “described the effect as lasting”.