Most children in youth justice system have suffered trauma, research suggests

Fiona Simpson
Friday, March 26, 2021

The majority of children in the youth justice system have been subject to abuse, trauma or poverty, new research shows.

Children in youth custody are likely to have suffered abuse, researchers say. Picture: Adobe Stock
Children in youth custody are likely to have suffered abuse, researchers say. Picture: Adobe Stock

The Punishing Abuse report, published by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, raises concerns that “a number of children in the youth justice system are being punished as a consequence of the impact on their behaviours of their early abuse and loss.”

The research, which is based on the lives of 80 children in the criminal justice system found that nine in 10 children are known or suspected to have been abused.

It also discovered that 80 per cent of children were subject to school exclusion or attendance at multiple secondary schools. The same percentage are also known or suspected to have a health issue.

Seven in 10 are known or suspected to have lived with domestic violence whilst growing up with the same figures also known or suspected to be a victim of violence and lived in poverty.

Just one child included in the study had no recorded abuse or childhood adversity.

The report includes a series of recommendations which call for more ambitious investment in support and intervention services that are needed to help children in crisis.

These include: 

  • Targeted resources for families at the highest risk of social exclusion

  • Support for schools, including academies, to work to eliminate school exclusions.

  • Reducing prosecutions of vulnerable children in public care. 

Report author Dr Alex Chard said: “Poverty, disadvantage and social exclusion, linked with systemic failure to address their needs, creates a conveyor belt which propels vulnerable children towards exploitation and crime.”

Andy Street, mayor of the West Midlands and chair of the WMCA, said: “Whilst there is never an excuse for committing crime, this report sets out some of the terrible experiences children in the criminal justice system have faced growing up.

“This report identifies a clear link between children and teenagers suffering from abuse, violence, and poverty, and then going on to commit criminal offences. It is therefore imperative that these underlying causes are addressed, and there is a serious amount of collaborative hard work needed to make that happen.”

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