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Developing Child First as the guiding principle for youth justice

Hazel, Neal; Williams, Paula


Paula Williams


Stephen Case


This chapter charts the formulation and development between 2018 and 2022 of Child First as the new guiding principle for youth justice in England and Wales. From the position of leading its development, the authors provide a unique contemporary ‘inside' analysis of the discourse-framing and negotiation processes involved in turning an evidence-base advocating reform into a policy-level proposal that is both acceptable and useful to stakeholders. Analysis of its formulation reveals how stakeholders' concerns were extensively anticipated and already navigated in Child First’s initial drafting, leading the chapter to call for academic models of policymaking process to recognise the influence of stakeholders as earlier and greater than typically understood (in active negotiation). The core understandings in the Child First principle have been widely accepted by stakeholders, enabling progress embedding it in national standards and guidance. Initial stakeholders' concerns (both anticipated in drafting and during consultation) have not spoken to the discourse dichotomies usually presented in youth justice literature (e.g. child vs offender), but instead to how specific elements of the principle may affect their own diverse agendas. Critical frameworks for understanding youth justice policy must be reframed to reflect the highlighted multiplicity of agendas of those involved, which may themselves not be primarily about children in the criminal justice system. The chapter demonstrates the usefulness of policy-level actors developing the methodology of 'textual reflexivity', adopted from social sciences, in the interests of both engagement with stakeholders and academic insight.


Hazel, N., & Williams, P. (2023). Developing Child First as the guiding principle for youth justice. In S. Case, & N. Hazel (Eds.), Child First: Developing a New Youth Justice System (169-201). Palgrave Macmillan.

Acceptance Date Feb 20, 2023
Online Publication Date Mar 19, 2023
Publication Date Mar 20, 2023
Deposit Date Aug 11, 2023
Publicly Available Date Mar 20, 2025
Publisher Palgrave Macmillan
Pages 169-201
Book Title Child First: Developing a New Youth Justice System
Chapter Number 7
ISBN 978-3-031-19271-5
Keywords Youth justice, Child First, Juvenile justice, Public policy, Policy narratives, Policymaking, Textual reflexivity