New data highlights the need for a better approach to ensuring kids in state care are safe and supported to stay out of the criminal justice system.
The Sentencing Advisory Council’s report ‘Crossover Kids’: Vulnerable children in the Youth Justice System shows children and young people, placed in state care for their safety and protection, are at much greater risk of ending up in the criminal justice system.
This aligns with our own research showing that Victorian children who are placed in residential care, often have early contact with police and the criminal courts.
Olivia Greenwell, Strategy Manager for Family Youth and Children’s Law at Victoria Legal Aid says, ‘We’re seeing highly vulnerable young people who have experienced significant trauma, mistreatment or neglect ending up in the criminal justice system when what they most need is safety, care and protection’.
‘In residential care homes young people are being charged for minor offences, like throwing a sponge at the neighbor’s car, a police response we would not typically see for young people in a family home’.
‘These are kids who can sometimes behave badly due to their experiences of trauma or abuse and frustrations at living in care away from family. But everyone agrees they should be supported and cared for, to overcome their experiences.
‘With so many kids in the youth justice system having spent time in child protection services, it’s clear they’re not getting the support they need to overcome disadvantage and go on to lead happy and productive lives,’ said Olivia.
Anna (not her real name) experienced this trend firsthand, after being removed from her family when she was 11, having lived in multiple residential care facilities around Victoria. On one occasion the police were called because she walked into an office without permission. Anna now has a criminal record for breaking and entering.
‘Once the police arrived, they’d charge you for every little thing, not just one charge, and it was for stupid stuff. The staff would push for the police to take us (to the station) or charge us and they didn’t care about the repercussions this has afterwards’, Anna said.
Our 2016 Care Not Custody report recommended that the Victorian government, police and residential care providers adopt a joint agreement that aims to reduce children’s unnecessary contact with police. This approach has been implemented in New South Wales, Queensland and overseas.
‘Victoria has taken some steps towards reducing the rates of criminalisation of young people in child protection, such as a pilot project providing intensive training to local residential care workers, care team members and police’ said Olivia.
‘But there is no clear plan to better support kids in care and address misbehaviour that would not ordinarily attract police attention. We need to stop entrenching Victoria’s most vulnerable children in a cycle of involvement with police and the courts’, Olivia said.