Out Of Home Care and the Criminal Justice System

Care-criminalisation: the involvement of children in out of home care in the NSW criminal justice system

This article discusses the involvement in the New South Wales criminal justice system of a cohort of children in out-of-home care. The paper reports the findings of a four-year research project that investigated the relationship between the child welfare and justice systems as experienced by a cohort of children in the New South Wales Children’s Court criminal jurisdiction. Analysis of 160 case files identified that children in out-of-home care appeared before the Children’s Court on criminal charges at disproportionate rates compared to children who were not in out-of-home care. The out-of-home care cohort had a different and negative experience of the justice system, entering it at a significantly younger age and being more likely to experience custodial remand, than children who had not been in out-of-home care. While both cohorts shared many of the risk factors common to young offenders appearing before the Children’s Court, the out-of-home care cohort experienced significant additional disadvantage within the care environment (‘care-criminalisation’), such that living arrangements designed to protect them from harm instead created the environment for offending. The paper concludes by arguing that a paucity of research exists regarding the drivers and dynamics of care-criminalisation and that more research is needed to explore the criminogenic impacts of a childhood spent in out-of-home care.

The link between child maltreatment and adolescent offending: Systems neglect of adolescents

The link between child maltreatment (abuse and neglect) and adolescent offending is well established and there is now significant evidence that the timing of this maltreatment matters. Young people whose maltreatment is chronic and persists from childhood into adolescence, or that starts in adolescence, are much more likely to be involved in crime and the juvenile justice system than those whose maltreatment is limited to their childhood. This highlights the importance of early intervention - both early in life and early in the pathway. While the message about intervening in the "early years" has quite rightly had considerable influence, adolescents are often neglected and seen as a low priority in terms of child protection and the provision of mental health services. When children and adolescents move from being "troubled" to "troublesome" when they are in out-of-home care and commit offences, their needs are often neglected as they fall through the gap between the child protection and juvenile justice systems - even when they are under the parental responsibility of the Minister. Although abuse and neglect may be closely related to children's offending behaviour, the court and service responses are quite separate.

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