Understanding the law is essential for the world we live in to be fair and just. After all, if you don’t know what your rights are how are you supposed to make sure they are respected and upheld?
Here at the Children’s Legal Centre Wales we are very passionate about providing children and young people with not just accessible information on the law but also accessible ways of receiving that information – legal education.
To make sure the services we develop meet the needs of children and young people in Wales we have carried out some research which considered what legal education opportunities there are in Wales and what could be done to improve them. We found of those surveyed 76% thought that children and young people were not given enough opportunities to learn about the law. Despite this lack of opportunities there was a high recognition that their lives were routinely affected by the law. Just under half thought the law affected them ‘every day’, and only 7% thought the law had no impact on their lives at all.
Young people indicated a wide range of areas where the law affected them. These included legal age restrictions (sexual consent, voting, smoking, drinking, etc.), working regulations (notably a concern for Gypsy Traveller young people), education laws (leaving school, discipline, home-schooling), children’s rights (learning about the UNCRC, making own choices) and Internet (especially You Tube and social media), to name but a few.
74% said the best place to learn about the law would be in school, compared to 28% who said the internet and 25% who suggested an extra-curricular setting such as a youth club. Survey respondents and focus groups also suggested a number of ways in which children and young people could learn about the law, including: role play, debates, making ‘story boards’, videos and games, teach compulsory ‘Government and Politics’ in school, and clubs and workshops in the community. The research therefore suggested the development of a programme that engaged Swansea University Law and Criminology Students in teaching about the law – this is called Street Law. Find out more here.
One interesting observation was the strong association by the children and young people between a legal issue and the police or being ‘in trouble’. Yet of the 42% of survey respondents who reported having needed legal advice, 20% had needed legal advice in respect of family law, 5% in relation to being looked after, 5% around bullying, 2% in connection with education and 2% linked to additional support. This shows that although most children and young people’s legal needs were to do with support needs, when they thought of ‘the law’ as a process, they thought of criminal rather than civil justice. Therefore, to ensure a fair and just society, in which the law is seen in a positive and supportive light not negative and restricting one, we must improve our legal education for young people!
Bussicott H, J, & Williams J, M, (2018) The ‘Desert’: Public Legal Education for Children and Young People in Wales. Children’s Legal Centre Research Report Paper 1