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Majority of children in the youth justice system have suffered from abuse, trauma or poverty

New research shows many young people in the criminal justice system suffer from violence, poverty, and abuse growing up – highlighting the “horrifying” abuse and adversity that these children suffered.

30/03/21

Majority of children in the youth justice system have suffered from abuse, trauma or poverty

New research has shown that nine in ten children in the justice system are known or suspected to have been abused, while seven in ten children are known or suspected to be a victim of violence, new research has found.

The ‘Punishing Abuse’ report, conducted by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, is one of the most wide-ranging contemporary studies into the experiences of children within the criminal justice system in England.

The report highlights the “horrifying” abuse and adversity suffered by children, finding that nine in ten children are known or suspected to have been abused, while seven in ten children are known or suspected to be a victim of violence themselves.

Eight in ten children were subject to school exclusion, or attended multiple secondary schools, and seven in ten children lived in poverty.

Seven in ten were also known or suspected to have lived around domestic violence whilst growing up.

Only one child in the research showed no recorded abuse or childhood adversity.

Authored by Dr Alex Chard, the report argues 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.

Dr Chard says the report indicates that exposure to abuse as a child may re-calibrate the emotional response system leaving latent vulnerability to aggressive behaviour, psychiatric disorder and poor outcomes across the life-course.

“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,” Dr Chard said.

“This report portrays the experiences children in the justice system have suffered, this is profoundly saddening and shocking. I hope that this report will initiate system wide change to improve the lives of the many children who experience adversity, abuse, loss and trauma, better protecting both those children and importantly their communities.”

The report provides a number of recommendations and proposals that focus on implementing a system-wide change to how public organisations support disadvantaged children who have experienced adversity, abuse, loss and trauma.

The recommendations call for a more ambitions investment in support and intervention for the services that are needed to help children in crisis, saying the social and economic cost of inaction could be “considerable”.

The report calls for targeted resources for families at the highest risk of social exclusion, while urging that schools and academies are “supported and incentivised” to work to eliminate school exclusions.

“If exclusion occurs those children must receive an effective service to ensure that they continue to be positively engaged in full time education provision that meets their needs,” the report states.

The report also urges that primary health and social care services help parents further develop their skills to nurture children and develop “positive patterns of attachment”, along with a suggestion to work with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to reduce prosecutions of vulnerable children in public care.

West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson said: “This is a harrowing report that lays bare some of the awful circumstances some young people find themselves in through no fault of their own.

“As Police and Crime Commissioner I am committed to improving the opportunities that young people have to ensure that they lead fulfilling lives away from crime. This report offers a number of recommendations and I am committed to working with partners to implement them.

“This report shows that much more needs to be done to protect the most vulnerable young people in our society and more needs to be invested to support children and their families who are at risk.

“Collectively we are failing some of our most vulnerable young people and we are all paying the price later on. This report needs to be a catalyst for change.”

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