Department of Child Law, Leiden University

Department of Child Law, Leiden University

Departamento de Derecho de la Infancia y Adolescencia, Universidad de Leiden

Interviewees from the Department of Child Law, in the context of the 'Improving Juvenile Justice Systems in Europe' project:

Prof. Dr. Ton Liefaard (right of the picture) - Full Professor and UNICEF Chair in Children's Rights at Leiden University.

Dr. Stephanie Rap (centre of the picture) - Assistant Professor.

Apollonia Bolscher, LL.M. (left of the picture) - Researcher/Junior Lecturer.

The Department of Child Law at Leiden University is a knowledge centre dedicated to academic research and education for both students and professionals in the field of child law and children’s rights. A wide range of areas is covered including children’s rights, child protection, juvenile justice and family law. The Department conducts scientific research projects for governments, international organisations, including UNICEF, the Council of Europe, the IJJO, and different national institutions, including the Dutch children’s ombudsperson.

The Department of Child Law offers the only LL.M programme on Dutch Child Law in the Netherlands. In addition, it offers the international programme Master of Laws: Advanced Studies in International Children’s Rights. Moreover, the department is responsible for various courses in the Bachelor’s programme of Leiden Law School and post-academic training programmes for professionals in the Netherlands and abroad.

The Department also hosts the yearly international summer school ‘Frontiers of Children’s Rights’.

The IJJO and 12 partner organisations have developed a project designed to improve juvenile justice systems in Europe, entitled 'Improving Juvenile Justice Systems in Europe: Training for Professionals'.

With the input of the IJJO and the other project partners, your team drafted the training package of the project. The voice of the child is put at the centre of its training package, and in fact a common title for both the Manual and the Toolkit for professionals within this project is "Can anyone hear me?". Can you tell us more about this choice of perspective and why it is so important for a real improvement of juvenile justice systems in Europe?

The right to be heard of children is one of the cornerstones of the UN Convention in the Rights of the Child. It is specifically mentioned that children who come into conflict with the law should be able to express their views in the case and that these views must be given due weight. Because children involved in juvenile justice procedures often don’t know and understand exactly what is happening (for example in court) it is important to help them to participate effectively in these procedures. Participation means that children can use their own voice to let adults know what they think of the situation they are involved in and it will help them to understand what is decided by adults in the juvenile justice process. The idea that children in conflict with the law should be treated differently from adults is quite commonly accepted in Europe. However, there is a world to win in teaching adults on how to approach children and enable them to participate effectively in the process. This project aims to contribute to this. 

During the drafting of the training package, what were the main training needs for professionals that you identified in relation to child-friendly justice?

Participation of children is one of the core elements of a child-friendly justice system. But in many European juvenile justice systems children cannot yet participate effectively. Therefore, the first step is to make professionals aware of the importance of hearing children’s voices in procedures. The second step is to make professionals aware of the opportunities that exist for child participation in their daily practice and how they can involve children in the juvenile justice process. Professionals should not only see hurdles and obstacles, but they should explore the possibilities and good practices that already exist and that could be further developed. With the Manual and Toolkit we hope to provide professionals with ideas based on good practices from the partner organisations around Europe. This can certainly contribute to juvenile justice systems being more child-friendly and respectful towards the rights of the children involved. 

How has this training package been designed to meet the needs of the EU28 countries, considering their variety of professionals and juvenile justice systems? How is the training package with its different components - the Manual, the Toolkit for professionals and the Online Course - innovative in this regard?

With the Manual and Toolkit, we first aim to provide general and specific key information for the 28 EU countries with regard to the participation of children in conflict with the law. These tools provide a comprehensive overview of the current state of affairs with regard to the international legal framework as well as the social scientific knowledge concerning child participation. This part touches upon international and European standards concerning juvenile justice and specifically the right to participation. Moreover, information is provided on how professionals can communicate with children in the juvenile justice setting; i.e. how and when to address children, which information should be provided to them and how the final decision in the case should be explained to the child.

Subsequently, the Manual and Toolkit present real life examples of good practices and practical exercises; so participants can truly put theory into practice. The innovativeness of the training further lies in the interdisciplinary character of the training package. The package therefore is useful for professionals from diverse backgrounds working in juvenile justice, including for example those working in the area of restorative justice. During the training professionals can learn from each other’s perspectives and a true cross-fertilisation can take place between different disciplines. 

The last part of the training package will be an online training course hosted on the IJJO's e-learning platform, the International School of Juvenile Justice. What should professionals aim to learn and achieve through this online course?

The Online Training Course should be seen in connection with the Manual. The Manual is the main document to go through and to use for professionals. Its aim is to provide knowledge, but also to present tools for professionals to learn how and when to communicate with children in an effective manner. The Online Course provides questions to stimulate further thinking in this regard. Of course, the participant’s knowledge is tested, but we also hope that the participant will use the online course to take home points of discussion. The questions stimulate further thinking, as to how the participation of children in the juvenile justice system can take shape in the national or local context of the professional.