Together, we can build back children’s trust in system

Let me start by giving you a statistic: “For the year ending March 2020, Black children made up thirty five percent of all children remanded to custody”. That is over a third and nearly nine times higher than their share in the general population of 10 to 17-year-olds in England and Wales (4%).

That is a shocking statistic and the highest in the past decade. Remember, that these are children who’ve not yet been tried at court. At the Youth Justice Board (YJB) we pride ourselves on being an evidence-led organisation and so commissioned some research to find out more.

On 21 January 2021 we published ‘Ethnic disproportionality in remand and sentencing in the youth justice system. While this report didn’t give information on all the other places where disproportionality occurs, such as arrests or custodial placements, it was an important piece in the puzzle. For example, we now know that once demographic and offence-related factors were taken into account, disproportionality in court outcomes persisted for Black children but not for other ethnic minority groups.

The research helped to highlight areas that require further investigation and we will undertake further research to understand the judiciary’s use and experience of the advice they receive from youth offending teams and other professionals when making remand and sentencing decisions for children. A positive development was that earlier this year we held a roundtable event jointly with the Magistrates Association (MA) looking at over-representation and agreed the development of a disparity protocol and checklist for magistrates.

At this point, I must make it clear that the research didn’t single out any specific agency. Rather, the evidence suggested that disproportionality was very much a system wide issue. Nevertheless, our partners in the courts left us in no doubt of their commitment to work together to tackle it. On the day of publication Linda Logan, Chair of the MA’s Youth Courts Committee, released a statement affirming that: “It is a priority of the MA to support fair decision-making by all our members as well as to work with the Youth Justice Board and others to reduce disproportionality throughout the system.”

But, as touched on above, racial disparities exist far beyond remands and sentencing. As part of our quest to understand this issue we have today published ‘Understanding racial disparity’. This publication, updated from the previous year, pulls together a rich array of verified and published data to shed light on any disparities in a child’s formative years, health, education, interaction with the police and involvement in the youth justice system. It is not able to explain these disparities, but the diversity of data sources makes it unique. This year we also draw from published data on pupil absence, higher education, physical activity, COVID-19 mortality and victims of homicide.

To give you a flavour of some of the findings:

  • Black children (5%) were more likely to be in care (8%) and less likely to be adopted (2%). Source: Children looked after in England including adoption: 2019 to 2020.
  • Children in Asian (26%) and Black (21%) households were more likely to live in persistent low income than those in White (10%) households. Source: Ethnicity facts and figures
  • Traveller and Gypsy/Roma pupils were also most likely to be permanently excluded from school (Autumn term 2019 to 2020). Source: Ethnicity facts and figures
  • In the years ending March 2010 to 2020, Black children in England and Wales were nearly five times more likely to be arrested than White children. Source: Criminal justice statistics quarterly
  • Black children were the least likely (35%) to take part in sport or physical activity for an average of 60 minutes or more on average per day of all ethnicities (White children 47%). Source: Sport England
  • In 2020, 18.8% of White children (5 to 16-year-olds) had a probable mental disorder, compared with 7.5% of children from ethnic minorities (excluding White minorities). Source: NHS mental health of children and young people in England 2020
  • Within the 2019/2020 experimental statistics bulletin on ‘assessing the needs of sentenced children in the youth justice system’ we learned that of those assessed, Black children (46%) had the highest proportion of High or Very High Risk of Serious Harm ratings. Mixed children were 38% and White children had the smallest proportion at 27%. Source: Youth Justice Statistics 2019 to 2020
  • In the most recent data, Black children made up 35% of all children on remand, up from 33% in the previous year. This is the highest proportion in the last ten years and compares to 21% ten years ago. Source: Youth Justice Statistics 2019 to 2020

Alongside the data, we summarise our progress in the past year to tackle racial disparity, together with a brief overview of activity from the Youth Custody Service. This ranges from workforce development through to data sharing agreements. I am encouraged by the breadth of activity that has been going on. Not least because we know that this must be a collective effort. Initiatives over the past year have involved many different partners and agencies such as the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners and the Alliance of Sport, to name but a few.

Today’s publication also includes a recording of children and young adults, who are members of our Youth Ambassadors Network. In line with our commitment to be Child First, they set this publication in the context of their personal experiences and for that we are extremely grateful. It is powerful, occasionally uncomfortable listening. We hear troubling examples of racial injustice, but also possible solutions. One thing that unifies all the speakers is their desire to reach out to the agencies involved and make it work. What I take away from it is that the system still has a way to go before children feel safe and trust can be built.

So how do we go about building trust? Well, we must continue to listen and we must act on what we hear, but above all we must put every effort into ensuring that the justice system is seen to act fairly, because that is what WE will be judged on. That is because justice matters. We believe in a system that operates in an efficient, effective, accountable and fair way. We must not be complicit and ensure that ‘silence is not an option’ when it comes to ensuring that equality and fairness exists.

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