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Child First and the end of ‘bifurcation’ in youth justice?

Stephen Case (Department of Criminology, Sociology and Social Policy, Loughborough University, Leicestershire, UK)
Roger Smith (Department of Sociology, Durham University, Durham, UK)

Journal of Children's Services

ISSN: 1746-6660

Article publication date: 4 July 2023

Issue publication date: 17 November 2023




This study aims to critically evaluate the trajectory of the “Child First” guiding principle for youth justice in England and Wales, which challenges adult-centric constructions of children (when they offend) as “threatening” and asserts a range of theoretical and principled assumptions about the nature of childhood and children’s evolving capacity.


Focussing on how Child First seeks to transcend the socio-historically bifurcated (polarised/dichotomised) thinking and models/strategies/frameworks of youth justice, this study examines the extent and nature of this binary thinking and its historical and contemporary influence on responses to children’s offending, latterly manifested as more hybridised (yet still discernibly bifurcated) approaches.


Analyses identified an historical and contemporary influence on bifurcated responses to offending by children in the United Kingdom/England and Wales, subsequently manifested as more hybridised (yet still discernibly bifurcated) approaches. Analyses also identified a contemporary, progressive challenge to bifurcated youth justice thinking, policy and practice through the “Child First” guiding principle.


By tracing the trajectory of Child First as an explicit, progressive challenge to previous youth justice thinking and formal “approaches”, to the best of the authors’ knowledge, they are the first to question whether, in taking this approach, Child First represents a clean break with the past, or is just the latest in a series of strategic realignments in youth justice seeking to resolve inherent tensions between competing constructions of children and their behaviour.



Case, S. and Smith, R. (2023), "Child First and the end of ‘bifurcation’ in youth justice?", Journal of Children's Services, Vol. 18 No. 3/4, pp. 180-194.



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