Parents' involvement in youth justice proceedings: perspectives of youth and parents

Executive Summary

Each year in Canada, there is one youth court case for every 29 youths age 12-17 (inclusive) in the country. Although the Youth Criminal Justice Act (YCJA; S.C. 2002) requires that attempts be made to notify parents [1] when a youth is charged, there is no legal requirement that a parent be present in any legal proceedings against a youth. One of the concerns uncovered in youth justice research over the last 20 years is that youths often do not fully understand the implications of some of their criminal justice decisions. Legislative provisions seem to suggest that parents can play a role in providing support and advice to young people, though nothing explicit regarding the nature of parental involvement is contained in the YCJA. However, we know almost nothing about the actual role that parents play in this area of children's lives.

The purpose of the study reported here was to address this gap by examining the role of parents in their adolescent children's youth justice experiences, specifically, to:

  1. describe the experience of parental involvement from the perspective of youth and parents,
  2. examine what factors predict parental involvement, and
  3. explore the relationship between parental involvement and relevant outcomes at various stages in the youth justice process.

Study findings may have practical implications for current policies and may suggest the need for new policies to support effective parental involvement. For example, lack of parental understanding of significant aspects of the youth justice process, particularly if found to impact legal outcomes for young people, might indicate the need for the educational resources. Legal and judicial education may also be warranted. Lawyers are an important educational resource for both young persons and their parents. However, lawyers may not be aware of the misunderstandings youth and parents hold about the youth justice process, or the barriers that reduce parental involvement. Training for lawyers specializing in young offender law may help to bridge information gaps and facilitate effective parental involvement. Similarly, knowledge of the predictors and outcomes associated with parental involvement might assist judges in decision-making so that young people whose parents are not involved are not disadvantaged unfairly. Insight into these issues might also help frontline workers to facilitate positive interactions between parents and youth.

[1] The word 'parents' may include not only biological parents but step-parents, extended family members, or others who have assumed a caregiving role with respect to a young person.