‘He might be a scumbag, but he’s my scumbag’
: The Experiences and Needs of Parents in Northern Ireland when their Children come into contact with the Justice System

  • Emma McGinnis

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The narrative of parents of children who are in contact with the youth justice system is conflicted. They are both responsiblised and stigmatised when their child is involved with the justice system, yet integral in official policy rhetoric of support, desistence and citizenship engagement in making communities safer. However, little is understood of the actual lived day to day experiences of parents, or their needs in supporting their children during these times, yet they are essential to mandated decision making processes and forums concerning them. This study adopted a qualitative methodological approach to understand parents’ experiences and needs as they support their children through involvement with the youth justice system. The research design used semi-structured interviews and focus groups to explore their reality with the justice system and other agencies they and their children must engage with during these times. Data was thematically analysed with findings showing that parents in Northern Ireland whose children are in contact with the justice system experience circumstances prior to contact with the system, and initial and ongoing contact, as traumatic. Processes and events involving agencies in the justice system are almost always further traumatising and shaming, reinforcing the stigma and sense of blame. Parents endure multiple losses personally, within their immediate and extended families, and in their communities. The legacy of conflict in Northern Ireland means parents often contend with the unique trauma of threatened or actual paramilitary violence in the lives of their children and families. Mutual support and self-help can be transformational in providing opportunities for sharing experiences, coping, challenging exclusion, and creating hope. However, few parents have access to needs led coordinated support let alone parent led collective user involvement.
Date of AwardFeb 2021
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorUna Convery (Supervisor) & Linda Moore (Supervisor)


  • Young people
  • Youth justice
  • Parenting
  • Support
  • Northern Ireland
  • Exclusion
  • Shame
  • Loss and trauma
  • Mutual support
  • Stigma

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