‘Unpacking’ the Principle and why it matters

All children are entitled to the support and protection of a child-centred response. Prioritising this within the context of child exploitation and extra-familial harm is particularly important because, too often, this has not been the case. Putting children and young people first is at the heart of a child-centred approach. It means ‘keeping the child or young person in focus when making decisions about their lives and working in partnership with them and their families.’  It means seeing the child or young person behind the presenting behaviours, i.e. considering them holistically, including their family circumstances, trauma, physical and mental health, identity and experiences of inequalities.

A child-centred response must span the full spectrum of support, from prevention and early help through to specialist services, and include those children and young people who are in or leaving care. This approach may also need to be part of any transitional support – neither trauma nor young people’s development stops at the age of 18 and those facing exploitation and extra-familial harm may need support into adulthood.

Ensuring a child-centred response may be challenging if the child or young person is causing harm to others. However, it is very important to ensure that children and young people are not excluded from support and protection where a criminal justice response is required. This means understanding the needs and vulnerabilities that might be underpinning harmful behaviours, as part of managing risks. This aligns with the Child First approach established within youth justice.

I feel understood, believed, and treated like a human being. I feel my worker is interested in me and on my side. I know they don’t judge or blame me.

How it should feel for a child/young person being supported