Ellie Ames 21 September 2023

‘Shockingly high’ justice system involvement among care-experienced children

‘Shockingly high’ justice system involvement among care-experienced children image
Image: sashafolly / shutterstock.com

A third of care-experienced children born from 1996-99 received a youth justice caution or conviction – a finding described as a ‘terrible indictment of the failure of local authorities’.

In the largest ever study of ethnicity, care experience and youth justice involvement in England, the experiences of almost 2.3 million children were monitored using new linked datasets from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and Department for Education (DfE).

The study of children aged 10-17 revealed that 33% of those with care experience received a youth justice caution or conviction, compared with 4% of those who had not been in care.

The figure is far higher than previous estimates and ‘a terrible indictment of the failure of local authorities to parent and support children in their care’, Care Leavers Association national director David Graham said.

The report states that ‘for a significant proportion of looked after children, the care experience does appear to contribute to the onset of offending behaviour, and for others it exacerbates and perpetuates their existing involvement’.

Care-experienced children from some minority ethnic groups were even more likely to have received a youth caution or conviction, including black Caribbean (39%), mixed white and black Caribbean (42%), Travellers of Irish heritage (46%) and Gypsy/Roma (50%).

Ethnic minority children in care face a ‘double whammy’ of disadvantage that increases their risk of youth justice involvement, the report states.

A statutory duty on local authorities to prevent unnecessary criminalisation of children in care and care leavers is recommended by the report’s authors.

They also recommended that the MoJ and DfE publish data using detailed ethnic categories where possible, and that better understanding across youth justice agencies of the needs of care-experienced children is promoted.

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