For decades academics, policy makers, practitioners and other experts have deliberated on how best to create safer communities by preventing offending by children. For the past 20 years or more, the body of evidence known as the ‘Child First’ approach has been proven to be the best way of achieving this.
With that in mind, the Youth Justice Board set out to answer two questions:
- How far do we think we are from achieving a “Child First” system?
- What could we do to achieve a “Child First” system?
To provide answers they brought together more than 200 stakeholders – all experts in their fields within or connected to youth justice. They came together in groups across England and Wales to provide their thoughts on the current system and ideas for the future.
Across both England and Wales experts consistently raised the need to do the following:
- recognise the youth justice system as part of a wider system and make changes beyond – like improving understanding of why children offend
- collect the right data and to share it with agencies effectively
- enable greater child and workforce participation and collaboration
- challenge current reforms to go further, including police and courts, and to reflect this in changes to inspection
- review training for youth justice staff, including supporting staff to deal with trauma, and in Wales to build on in-depth trauma informed training already delivered
Less than two years ago Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, published a report shining a light on the youth justice system in England. The report, “Injustice or In Justice: Children in the Justice System”, called for a radical approach to preventing children becoming involved in crime and turning children’s lives around when they have spiralled out of control.
It urged Government to put more resource into stopping gangs from exploiting vulnerable children, into identifying children at risk of getting involved in crime and diverting them away from that path, into reducing the numbers of children in custody to an absolute minimum and into transforming secure care for children so that rehabilitation is at its heart.
The report warned that an under-resourced and fragmented system of child protection is letting down thousands of children before they ever set foot inside a police station. It shows how over half of children sentenced are currently or have already been a ‘Child in Need’, 7 in 10 have identified mental health needs and 85% of boys in young offender institutions have previously been excluded from school. When compared to their peers, children in residential care are at least 13 times more likely to be criminalised.
Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England, said:
“For too long, ruthless criminals have been able to exploit gaps in the education and child protection system to exploit and criminalise vulnerable children. Tackling the scourge of serious violence requires a radical change in how we view the youth justice system.
Significant progress has been made in keeping children out of custody in the last ten years, but much more needs to be done. There are still too many children being sent to prison and still too many children who are set up to fail when they leave custody because not enough is being done to find them the right place to live or to get them the treatment or education they need on release.
We should look at why Scandinavian countries have so few children in custody and raise our own expectations to match them.
That will mean stopping gangs from exploiting vulnerable children, identifying children at risk of getting involved in crime and diverting them away from that path, reducing the numbers of children in custody to an absolute minimum and transforming secure care for children so that rehabilitation is at its heart.
I believe all of this is achievable if the will is there to do it. The number of children in custody in this country is only half the size of a secondary school. It should not be beyond us to improve our justice system so that children involved in the criminal justice system are recognised as children first. They should be held to account for their crimes but also kept safe and given more help to turn their lives around.”
We continue to monitor government and other messaging around youth justice reform and wherever possible feed that into our child-centred casework approach, ensuring that justice is achieved for our most vulnerable clients at every stage of the criminal process.
How can we help?
We ensure we keep up to date with any changes in legislation and case law so that we are always best placed to advise you properly. If you would like to discuss any aspect of your case, please contact our team of criminal defence specialists on: 01376 511819