Traveller children overlooked and overrepresented in the youth justice system

By Sean Creaney

| 12 April 2018

Gypsy, Roma, Traveller (GRT) children are among the most discriminated against groups in society, most at risk of prejudice and abuse. They are too frequently mistreated and feared, demonised and vilified by sections of society and the print media.

As noted by The Children's Society - who have worked extensively with GRT children - such discrimination can result in their rights compromised. It is time racism against GRT people, ended.

GRT children are being failed by a host of services across education, social care, health and criminal justice, with a responsibility to care for them and promote their emotional health and wellbeing needs. In the youth justice context, they are too frequently overlooked. It is especially troubling that they are not only over-represented in custody - namely secure training centres (STCs) and young offender institutions (YOIs) - they also have poorer outcomes and worse experiences of custody compared with other children, according to a report by The Traveller Community.

Children in the youth justice system have disproportionately experienced a host of complex problems or personal difficulties, including emotional instability, poor physical health, unemployment, hostility, family conflict and broken homes. However, GRT children are particularly marginalised and vulnerable, more likely to be drawn into the justice system and experience unfair treatment.

Charlie Taylor - who lead the review of the youth justice system for the Ministry of Justice and is currently the chair of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales - acknowledged overrepresentation of certain groups, but, regrettably, he omitted reference to GRT children. Thus, there is a pressing need for an inquiry to explore the reasons for the injustices GRT children continue to experience. 

The recognition, care and treatment of GRT children falls short of expectations. In terms of the youth justice context, approaches should be less punitive and more welfare-orientated and child-friendly, with a focus on diversion, decarceration and decriminalisation.

In addition, organisations should provide current and former service users, with GRT-lived experiences, opportunities to join advisory boards or consultation forums. This can help to ensure the voices of GRT children - an ethnic group, protected from discrimination (Equality Act 2010) - are heard and help to fight the system of injustice. 

Sean Creaney is an advisor at social justice charity Peer Power

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