Anne-Marie Douglas, founder of social justice charity Peer Power, visited Edge Hill University to talk at an event about the health and wellbeing needs of young people in the justice system.

The event was held by The Institute for Public Policy and Professional Practice (I4P) in association with the Faculty of Health and Social Care. Along with Anne-Marie, guest speakers included Youth Engagement Co-ordinator Ebi Lyere and Peer Leader, Seth Khan.

In an engaging and interactive session, the speakers discussed their work influencing system change, by promoting young people’s meaningful involvement in services at an individual and policy level. Peer Power, who specialise in empathy development, co-production and social and emotional learning for practitioners and young people, urged delegates to do more to ensure that the voices of young people, especially those most vulnerable and marginalised, are heard and acted upon.

“At Peer Power we believe that the relationship IS the intervention. It is what young people tell us, and it is what research tells us. The antidote for trauma is empathy and a secure trusted relationship. It is relational care that heals relational trauma. We are biologically wired to connect, as babies we do not thrive without connection and that this does not stop at childhood, we have a deep need to belong, to be seen, heard and understood,” said Anne Marie.

“Rather than focusing on young people’s criminality, practitioners could seek to understand that perhaps young people in their services have potentially suffered numerous losses in their lives, for example, bereavement of family or friends, loss of identity, loss of previous practitioners in their lives, and this might be a real factor in their engagement with services,” added Ebi.

The event, welcomed and introduced by Dr John Cater, Vice-Chancellor of Edge Hill, attracted high profile representatives from the sector, including Cheshire Youth Justice Services and Cheshire Police. The event was also supported by the Rt. Hon Lord Bradley, who is a Non-Executive Director at Pennine Care NHS Foundation Trust, a Trustee of the Centre for Mental Health and a Trustee of Prison Reform Trust.

Lord Bradley said:

“As was highlighted in my review of people with mental health problems or learning disabilities in the criminal justice system, there can be a lack of adequate assessment and identification of problems at an early stage. I recommended more training, for both health and criminal justice professionals. Discussed at their Edge Hill University event, social justice charity Peer Power made recommendations to improve the emotional support and wellbeing that young people receive in the youth justice system. Crucially, Peer Power called for greater focus on empathic relationships and more emphasis on ensuring young people’s voices are listened to and acted upon throughout the system”

Sean Creaney, Lecturer in Psychosocial Analysis of Offending Behaviour at Edge Hill University, added:

“It was a privilege to welcome Anne-Marie, Ebi and Seth to the University. The Peer Power event was interactive, engaging, authentic and powerful.”