Professor Lesley McAra and Professor Susan McVie
Professor Lesley McAra
Professor Lesley McAra and Professor Susan McVie at the University of Edinburgh Law School are the leaders of an influential study that underpinned changes in the approach to youth justice. We caught up with them to see what they are working on now, challenges faced and how they make such a successful team.
With funding from the Economic and Social Research Council, part of UK Research and Innovation, the pair have been following the lives of 4,300 12-year-olds who started secondary education in Edinburgh in 1998. By linking data from the survey, interviews and administrative data, Susan and Lesley explored young people's pathways in and out of youth offending. They tracked individuals' development over their life course, interactions with agencies such as the police and courts, and the impact of the physical and social structure of the neighbourhoods where young people lived.
Evidence from the study underpinned the Scottish Government's 'Whole System Approach' to working with young people who offend, which was piloted in 2008 and rolled out as a national programme in 2011 to all 32 unitary authorities. This was followed by dramatic reductions in youth offending and in the number of young people convicted in court and sent to custody.
The findings shaped the 'Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill' which was passed by the Scottish Parliament in May 2019, raising the age of criminal responsibility from eight to 12 years of age. The accompanying policy memorandum directly referred to the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime, which was the only academic research cited.
"There's no doubt that the study by McAra and McVie has been the most influential academic research into youth justice in the 30 years I've been working in this area. The findings influenced significantly the approach to working with young people in trouble,” said Paul Carberry, Action for Children Director for Scotland.
Professor Susan McVie
“Susan McVie and I have been working together for 22 years as Co-Directors of the Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and Crime. The findings of this study have had major policy impact and have shown that girls and young women who are involved in the most serious forms of violence come from backgrounds blighted by violence and inequality.
“Enabling young people to thrive requires holistic and nurturing services in the context of wider economic opportunity. Susan and I have faced many challenges in getting funding for our study over the longer term and in getting policy makers to acknowledge the responsibilities they have to work across portfolios. Our own relationship is built on deep respect, support and friendship: we have thrived as academics because of each other,” said Lesley.
“The Edinburgh Study of Youth Transitions and crime found that the main drivers of offending behaviour amongst children, and especially girls, were vulnerability, poverty and disadvantage. This means that responses to offending must be sensitive to the adversity and trauma that children experience in early life. Helping to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility in Scotland to 12 by highlighting the harmful consequences of criminalising young children has been one of the highlights of my academic career.
“We still have a long way to go to increase it to a level that is considered acceptable by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child but, by working together in partnership and ensuring the voices of children – and especially girls - are heard, Lesley and I are certain that we can achieve this!” Susan added.