Young People Punished For Being Victims of Abuse and Neglect

July 01, 2019 |

The Crossover report into kids in care in the criminal justice system is a powerful analysis of our failure to  address the trauma of childhood abuse & neglect.

The Sentencing Advisory Council Crossover report into kids in care in the criminal justice system, released yesterday,  is a powerful analysis of a historical & current failure to adequately address the trauma of childhood abuse & neglect.

This is a timely report given the recent Vic Government budget announcement of expansions & new prisons to be built. 

It is quite clear from this report that adequately addressing the trauma of childhood abuse & neglect would substantially reduce prison numbers.

The report tells us that young people are being fast tracked into the criminal justice system. They are being punished for being abused in childhood.  Of all children sentenced or diverted in the Children’s Court in 2016 & 2017 (a total of 5,063 children) 1938 or 38% had a history of child protection.

  • 58% of those offending between 10 & 15 had a child protection history. Previous studies have found early offending to be a strong predictor of re-offending & adult imprisonment
  • A high proportion of young people on remand have a child protection history.
  • 1 in 2 in youth detention had a child protection background
  • Multiple placements in care was a prominent feature (1 in 2 had 5 or more placements )
  • Residential unit care was a prominent feature ( 58% in residential care /10% in other care )
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) young people were over represented by a factor of 11.5

It is time that the trauma that children have experienced is adequately recognised and addressed.

There are simple actions the Victorian government can take:

  1. Early and adequate therapeutic care, counselling & support for all children experiencing childhood abuse, including at opportune moments such as early offending.  We note a similar recommendation from the Victorian Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People Andrew Jackomos (Always was ,Always will be Koori Children - 2016 )as well as many other recommendations, in regard to Koori children in the child protection system.  
  2. Improved care in child protection – Residential care and multiple placements are clearly inadequate and very harmful. The Vic Gov’t has signalled intention to move young people out of residential care; however more needs to be done. It can’t be temporary /inadequate fixes such as caravan park accommodation.
  3. Review of bail laws and guidelines to ensure that young people with a child protection background are not disproportionately impacted because of lack of a home to be bailed to.
  4. Legislative guidelines to all courts sentencing children that they must take into account the child’s experience of abuse, trauma & neglect, parental death, loss, removal from family or experience of out-of-home care and how these circumstances relate to the child’s offending; the need to ensure that the child has a safe, stable and secure place to live; or the need to protect the child from harm or the risk of harm. Currently NO such requirements exist in sentencing guidelines
  5. Government initiated protocols to reduce involvement of police in residential homes, those results in charging of young people.
  6. Raise the age of criminal responsibility

Taking action will reduce youth crime & prisons numbers. What could be better for the gov’t and the community?

 The report is 1 of 2 to be released. The 2nd will drill down to the type & extent of abuse experienced by those in the criminal justice system.  We expect this will reveal that often those most severely sentenced in the criminal justice system are those who have been most severely abused.

It is important we all recognise that most young people with a child protection history do not offend. The number of child offenders with a child protection history was 1,938 over the 2 years studied whereas in the year 2015-16 there were almost 15,000 substantiated child protection cases and close to 10,000 children were removed and placed in care.


Ariel Couchman

Young People’s Legal Rights Centre (Youthlaw) a member of the Federation of Community Legal Centres.

Sign up