written by: Hannah Smithson, Professor of Criminology and Youth Justice, Manchester Metropolitan University. – Tom Lang, Head of Service, Manchester Youth Justice Service 

Participatory Youth Practice (PYP) is the first framework in the world to be co-created with justice-involved young people based on their lived experiences. PYP has had an impact on youth justice practice, on national and international youth strategies, and, most importantly, on young people themselves.

Developed in 2015 by a team of researchers led by Professor Hannah Smithson at the Manchester Centre for Youth Studies at the Manchester Metropolitan University, the PYP framework was re-launched in 2023 to take account of new research evidence.

Why does Participation Matter?

By law, children have a right to express their opinions on decisions that affect them, and to have those opinions taken into account by the adults who work with them. They also have the right to contribute to an effective response to their own behaviour, and to expect that adults will make active efforts to elicit their views and opinions at each stage of the justice process.

The continued lack of a coherent model of children and young people’s participation in current youth justice practice highlights the need for the development of a new model of practice that is not solely reliant on adult-directed research. Rather than involving children and young people in the process of identifying and then negotiating the barriers to reform, there must instead be a pursuit of co-produced wholescale system re-design, with the view to developing youth justice practice that is inherently void of barriers to participation, and consequently young-person centric. The creation of the PYP framework is a formative step in this process.

The Co-creation of PYP

Through an innovative knowledge-transfer partnership between Manchester Metropolitan University and the Greater Manchester Youth Justice Services, the Participatory Youth Practice Framework was co-created with children involved in the Youth Justice System using a variety of creative methodologies and interactive workshops. We worked with 50 young people – all male, their average age was 17, and a third were from ethnic minority backgrounds. Over two thirds were exposed to at least one adverse childhood experience growing up, including bereavement or significant loss, physical abuse and/or neglect, emotional abuse and/or neglect, and familial substance use. In addition, more than half were, or had previously been, in local authority care.

Creative research approaches included: boxing, rap lyric writing and urban art.

Practical boxing exercises alongside discussions covering topics such as identity, anger management, self-discipline, respect and masculinity.
Young people met local boxing role models to discuss life experiences, challenges & identities as boxers.

With the help of a local grime artist & MC, we discussed identity, authenticity, expression, admiration and respect.
The young people wrote their own deeply personal lyrics/stories and expressed their perspectives, which some then performed.

Styled around graffiti art, covering branding, tagging, identities, expression, culture & self-worth.
The young people developed a concept that expressed one or more of their characteristics- drawing on their vulnerabilities, strengths, wishes and fears.


The young people were involved in the analysis of the findings. The analysis led to the creation of 8 principles that underpin the PYP framework.

These 8 principles include the following:

  • Let them participate
  • Always unpick why
  • Acknowledge limited life chances
  • Avoid threats and sanctions
  • Help problem solve
  • Develop ambitions
  • Remember it’s their choice
  • Afford them a fresh start

The young people were also involved in the dissemination of the framework. They decided to make a film in which they explore their own perspectives on the importance of participatory practice: watch here. This film is used to explain PYP to youth justice professionals. The lyrics in the film were written by the young people.

The Embedding of PYP in Youth Justice Services

PYP has had an impact on youth justice practice, on national and international youth strategies, and, most importantly, on young people themselves. Over 350 practitioners have benefited from PYP training, resulting in improved professional practice.  It has doubled young people’s engagement rates with service provision in programmes where it has been implemented and improved mental health amongst young people who have engaged with those programmes.

The roll-out of the framework has been supported through the development of a suite of resources (including training manuals and the film created with young people) that embeds PYP into practice. It has received excellent endorsements from youth justice professionals.

‘I find having conversations around the eight key areas of PYP really brings together what we do as a service. I use the same principles with my staff, getting them to take ownership of their team and the service we deliver, and having the confidence to say that we are a service that truly allows the kids to participate
Youth Justice Manager

We have delivered training and supported the establishment of PYP in practice, helping to embed the framework into the Youth Justice Team’s strategic plans. PYP is now ‘hard-wired’ into a youth justice service provision that supports better outcomes for 1,500 young people across the region.

Because of the work we’ve done around participation in youth justice, young people are being assessed in a different way, worked with in a different way and that is a direct result of this project’.
Youth Justice Director

 The Benefits of Participation

Enabling the young people to co-direct this research project greatly enhanced the validity of the PYP framework. It is our intention that the principles of PYP will enable children and young people to get a sense that they, not only have control over their ‘treatment’ within the justice system, but that they also hold important expertise that can usefully inform youth justice policy and practice; both of which are prerequisites for a rights-based approach to youth justice. Furthermore, PYP provides a source of individual social recognition and social capital for children and young people. For example, statements such as ‘kids like us don’t usually get these opportunities’ and ‘people don’t usually bother asking us what we think’ highlight the value of participation.

Unless youth justice policy and practice is coproduced with children and young people, youth justice systems risk simply reiterating what has gone before. Meaningful change requires moving beyond a system characterised by top-down approaches, adult-devised assessment tools and a preoccupation with risk management, to a system that provides children and young people with space, voice, audience and influence (Lundy, 2007). We contend that the overall ethos of the PYP framework – grounded in co-production and meaningful participation – can contribute to the advancement of youth justice systems built on the notion of respecting and acknowledging children and young people’s rights and enabling them to contribute to decision-making processes.

Training Workshops

We can provide PYP training. We have developed a training workshop that accompanies the participation and training guide, found here: Participatory Youth Practice (PYP) · Manchester Metropolitan University (mmu.ac.uk). If you are interested in receiving training, please contact Hannah Smithson – h.l.smithson@mmu.ac.uk

If you would like to know more about the development of the Participatory Youth Practice Framework, you can find here.

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