Naming and shaming puts children at risk

Sean Creaney
Monday, November 16, 2015

I was disappointed to see last month that a police service in England named and shamed a child publicly for all to see on social media.

It appears to contravene the National Police Chiefs' Council strategy that was unveiled only a few weeks earlier in support of a "children first" policing model. My initial reaction was how inappropriate, unnecessary and extreme it was to depict a child on the internet in this way.

Such demonisation and vilification contravenes the purpose of protecting vulnerable children in society. It also goes against any commitment to promoting positive mental health. Naming and shaming increases risks of bulling, stigmatisation, and marginalisation, self-harm or even suicide. It also detracts from rehabilitation as young people are more likely to reoffend if "branded" an offender – their chances of ever "making good" any of the harm caused is jeopardised.

Anonymity

Children who appear in the youth court are usually granted anonymity. In antisocial behaviour cases however, the police and the press can name and shame a child – that is unless a Section 39 order of anonymity outlined in the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 is applied for and granted. Was a Section 39 order not applied for in this case? If so was the child informed of this and then encouraged to make an application themselves – in accordance with their rights and entitlements?

Alienation

Such a heavy-handed, enforcement-led approach is not a deterrent. It is likely to fail and alienate the individual further. The practice of naming and shaming is ineffective as some children see it as a "badge of honour". It is also in violation of children’s human rights. The decision to publicise details of the child is in breach of Article 16 (right to privacy) of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

There is a possibility that other articles have been breached too, namely the right to safety, as children may be identified as vulnerable and therefore susceptible to unscrupulous criminal gangs. It could then become a child protection issue. Younger children in the family could also be put in a vulnerable position, increasing the risk of exploitation.

Damaging self-esteem

The criminal behaviour order issued to the child in this case may also damage their self-esteem especially as the conditions in it seem somewhat unachievable. It is also intrusive in terms of the regulations imposed. Children subject to such measures with varying levels of need may struggle complying with such rigid conditions imposed. They may be unable to understand what is expected of them especially as such children may have speech, language and communication difficulties, learning disabilities and mental health problems making compliance much more difficult to achieve.

Urgent action

With the youth justice system seeing so many achievements of late, not least reductions in children entering the system and much lower prison rates, it is disappointing to see the practice of naming and shaming continuing. Despite improved government guidance on publicity in antisocial behaviour cases, there does not appear to be a proper commitment to preserving children’s anonymity. As a result some children are being humiliated by the press and the police alike. Releasing the details of our most vulnerable children in society who are in trouble with the law is a practice not fit for purpose.

Sean Creaney is a trustee at the National Association for Youth Justice and an adviser at social justice charity Peer Power


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