The Youth Justice Board recently brought together more than 200 experts to discuss how best to prevent offending by children. They called for changes to better promote the ‘Child First’ system, whereby children involved in the justice system are seen as ‘children’ rather than as ‘offenders’.

Solicitors for young people – England and Wales

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Recommendations from the Youth Justice Board

The Youth Justice Board asked 200 experts connected to youth justice to consider the following two questions:

  • How far do we think we are from achieving a Child First system?
  • What could we do to achieve a Child First system?

The experts met in groups across England and Wales. They discussed the current system and deliberated on the ways in which it might be improved. The groups consistently raised the same concerns. This includes the need to:

  • Improve understanding as to why children offend
  • Collect the right data and share it with agencies effectively
  • Enable greater child and workforce participation/collaboration
  • Expand on current reforms
  • Review training for youth justice staff, including supporting staff to deal with trauma

Injustice or In Justice: Children in the Justice System

These recommendations come less than two years after a report by Anne Longfield, Children’s Commissioner for England. Her report, titled ‘Injustice or In Justice: Children in the Justice System’, said a radical new approach is needed to help children involved in crime.

The report warns that children are being let down by society, which in turn makes them more vulnerable to gangs and more likely to become involved in crime. The statistics showed that:

  • Over half of children sentenced are currently or have already been a ‘Child in Need’
  • 7 in 10 have identified mental health needs
  • 85% of boys in young offender institutions have previously been excluded from school
  • Children in residential care are at least 13 times more likely to be criminalised than their peers

“Radical change”

Anne Longfield called on the government to put more resources into identifying children at risk and diverting them away from a life of crime. This would involve transforming secure care for children.

She said:

“For too long, ruthless criminals have been able to exploit gaps in the education and child protection system to exploit and criminalise vulnerable children. Tackling the scourge of serious violence requires a radical change in how we view the youth justice system.

“Significant progress has been made in keeping children out of custody in the last ten years, but much more needs to be done. There are still too many children being sent to prison and still too many children who are set up to fail when they leave custody because not enough is being done to find them the right place to live or to get them the treatment or education they need on release.

“We should look at why Scandinavian countries have so few children in custody and raise our own expectations to match them.

“That will mean stopping gangs from exploiting vulnerable children, identifying children at risk of getting involved in crime and diverting them away from that path, reducing the numbers of children in custody to an absolute minimum and transforming secure care for children so that rehabilitation is at its heart.

“I believe all of this is achievable if the will is there to do it. The number of children in custody in this country is only half the size of a secondary school. It should not be beyond us to improve our justice system so that children involved in the criminal justice system are recognised as children first. They should be held to account for their crimes but also kept safe and given more help to turn their lives around.”

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