By Mr John Peake, Director of the Law Clinic (University of Bristol Law School).
Kate Aubrey-Johnson writes that vulnerable children are not impressed by barristers’ textbooks. But then who would be. Certainly not the majority of young people who are drawn into the criminal justice world.
But the points she makes about the need for youth advocates to be specially trained and equipped with the communication skills needed to engage with vulnerable young people are as valid when advising the majority of young people as when representing those young people who are brought into the youth justice system.
For the first few months of my time as Director of the University of Bristol Law Clinic we were running drop in sessions initially with Creative Youth Network and then in conjunction with Kids Company. Both of these sessions operated from premises in Silver Street in the centre of Bristol but there was a marked disparity between take up. In the three months we were running sessions through Creative Youth we maybe saw two people. In contrast we would normally see at least two young people at each of the weekly Kids Company sessions. Some of the Kids Company young people continue to receive help from the Clinic. So why the difference? (more…)
Research led by Prof Morag McDermont of University of Bristol Law School has explored the ways in which advice organisations such as Citizens Advice (CA) have become key actors in legal arenas, particularly for citizens who face the most disadvantage in upholding their rights. Findings from a four year study in partnership with Strathclyde University, highlight the importance of free-to-access advice in enabling people to tackle problems and engage with the legal and regulatory frameworks that govern their lives.
The advice sector, however, is under threat, as a new book Advising in Austerity: Reflections on challenging times for advice agencies (edited by Samuel Kirwan and published by Policy Press ) demonstrates. The book, co-written by the research team and advisers in the field, highlights both the possibilities and the challenges for an advice sector that largely relies on volunteers to provide a vital interface between citizens and the everyday problems of debt, health, employment and much more. Despite the skills and enthusiasm of the workforce, many services are caught between rising demand and large-scale funding cuts, as traditional sources of revenue from local authorities and legal aid are dramatically reduced. Across the network, reductions in core funding are forcing agencies to reduce or reconfigure services. In particular, the face-to-face, generalist advice model that provides a holistic assessment of client’s problems is under pressure as services are reduced in favour of telephone or online support.