drgrainnemcmahon

researcher, feiminist

Young people in care and offending: a broken system

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On View from the North: Offending rates among children in care investigated

On the 23rd of June, 2015, the Prison Reform Trust launched a review to examine why children aged 10 to 17 who are in care are more likely to offend than children who are not in care. [1] The Trust acknowledges that the majority of young people in care do not offend or come into contact with the youth justice system; however, “children and young people who are, or have been, in care are over five times more likely than other children to get involved in the criminal justice system.” The Trust continues: “In a 2013 survey of 15-18 year olds in young offender institutions, a third of boys and 61% of girls said they had spent time in care. This is despite fewer than 1% of all children in England being in care.”  The review aims to identify why young people in care are disproportionately represented in the youth justice system and, importantly, how to respond to this problem.

The Trust’s claims are alarming but they are not new. Looked after children and care leavers have long been over-represented in Britain’s prisons. For example, research published by the Social Exclusion Unit in 2002 suggested that 27% of the adult prison population had once been in care [2] while surveys of 15-18 year olds in prison suggest that anywhere between one-quarter and one-half of young people have been in care. [3] Previous research has frequently tried to quantify and categorise the links between being in care, offending behaviour and contact with the youth justice system. These ‘risk factors’ for offending are complex and numerous [4] while many of the risk factors associated with crime are also associated with becoming looked after. [5] They include: coming from a household with low income and a large family; experiencing parental neglect, family conflict and disruption; becoming disengaged from school and performing poorly at school; and exhibiting a high likelihood of aggression and conduct disorder. [6]

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