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Adultification bias in child protection & safeguarding
Adultification bias results in Black children’s rights being diminished and notions of innocence and vulnerability displaced by responsibility and culpability.

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Adultification bias

The latest (24 June) in the probation inspectorate’s Academic Insights series highlights adultification bias, its links to racialised discrimination, and how it can impact upon child protection and safeguarding practices. The report, authored by Jahnine Davis, Director of Listen Up and a specialist in the safeguarding of Black children shows how the application of adultification bias results in children’s rights being diminished or ignored, with notions of innocence and vulnerability displaced by notions of responsibility and culpability. The report introduces the Professional Inter-Adultification Model which emphasises the importance of professional and organisational curiosity, critical thinking, and reflection. The model includes the further concept of intersectionality to encourage professionals to explore how the intersections of race/ethnicity, sexuality, class, gender, dis/abilities, and wider lived experiences may have impacted upon the lives of individual children.

What is adultification?

Dr Davis starts with a definition of adultification in the context of children’s rights, arguing that the adultification of Black children is a manifestation of racism and should be situated within an historical context of devaluation and dehumanisation. She defines the adultification of Black children as:

“persistent and ongoing act of dehumanisation, which explicitly impacts Black children, and influences how they are safeguarded and protected. This form of bias spans pre-birth and remains on a continuum to adulthood. Where at this juncture it becomes absorbed within the normative negative racialised experiences many Black adults encounter throughout their life course. Adultification may differ dependent on an individual’s intersecting identity, such as their gender, sexuality, and dis/abilities. However, race and racism remain the central tenant in which this bias operates.”

She highlights five key issues:

  1. Black children are more likely to experience adultification bias
  2. racism is the core issue influencing the adultification of Black children
  3. Black children are more likely to be met with suspicion, assumed deviance and culpability
  4. adultification reduces professional and organisational responsibility to safeguard and protect children, yet increases a responsibilisation of children to safeguard themselves
  5. adultification bias is a breach of child safeguarding legislation and guidance.

Dr Davis introduces the Professional Inter-Adultification (PIA) model which she developed jointly with Nick Marsh. The model sets out to show the process of adultification with the aim of making it possible to identify early indicators of the bias and ways to tackle it. The three key components of the model are:

  1. Professional: the model draws on the adultification of children by professionals, agencies, and institutions.
  2. Inter: the theory of intersectionality must be the starting point to explore these phenomena, to ensure when considering the needs and experiences of children impacted by this harm, sufficient attention is given to how the intersections of race/ethnicity, sexuality, class, gender, dis/abilities, and wider lived experiences may further compound how and which children are afforded ‘the deserving or underserving victim’ status.
  3. Adultification: the model was developed to demonstrate how adultification can lead to the rights of children not being upheld, potentially leaving them more at risk of harm, due to a dereliction of safeguarding duty.


The theory of adultification bias is very relevant to youth justice as a whole and County Lines drug dealing in particular with police and other stakeholders frequently involved in differing views and definitions of children involved in crime. The line between being a perpetrator and a victim is often a point of conflict. Dr Davis’ work on adultification show how racism and racist stereotyping means that Black children are less likely to be seen with the prism of welfare and safeguarding and more likely to be met with punitive approaches. Here is her conclusion:

“Adultification can lead to a victim-blaming narrative, which implies Black children are somehow complicit in the harm experienced. As Black children are less likely to be afforded care, compassion, and support, it raises a serious question of who are more likely to be categorised as deserving and underserving children when in need of safeguarding and protection?”


Thanks to Jed Villejo for kind permission to use the header image in this post which was previously published on Unsplash.

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