Trends and policy implications
Earlier this month Katie Hunter, Brian Francis and Claire Fitzpatrick, published a briefing based on their research into care experience, ethnicity and youth justice involvement. The research is based on an exciting new government initiative known as Data First which makes available large anonymised datasets from a number of different departments. This project utilised DfE data taken from the National Pupil Database containing demographic information and Children Looked After datasets detailing children’s social care involvement in England. The analysis also utilised MoJ data from the Police National Computer, which includes information about proven offences and sentencing outcomes in England. (In partnership with the Prison Reform Trust & Tim McSweeney, I am about to use other Data First datasets to have a closer look at the mainly hidden world of parole decisions and their outcomes.)
The study adopted a longitudinal approach, which included four cohorts of children born between 1996 and 1999. Snapshot demographic information for children born in each birth year was extracted from the respective 2006 to 2009 educational censuses when they were aged 10 (the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility in England and Wales). The resulting dataset contains information for approximately 2.3 million children and includes demographic information (including gender and ethnicity), information about children’s services involvement and/or youth justice involvement.
Of the 2.3 million children in the dataset, 2% had been in care at some point and 5% had received a youth justice caution or conviction between the ages of 10 and 17. In linking these datasets, it was possible to determine the extent of youth justice involvement among care- experienced children (those who were at some point a ‘looked after’ child) versus non-care- experienced children. The resulting findings give a picture of youth justice involvement in England between 2006 and 2017. It is the first time that youth justice involvement among care- experienced children, and how this varies by ethnic group, has been explored on such a large scale.
This analysis covers children born between 1996 and 1999 who were recorded in the National Pupil Database in England at age 10. Therefore, the data may not be representative of all children in England. There are also limitations that mean the study might be underestimating the number of care-experienced children in the dataset.
Although we are aware of many of the study findings from other research and statistical analysis, we have nothing on a comparable scale which leaves no room for debate and throws down a challenge to government to tackle this, until recently, very much neglected issue. You can see from the table above that half the children from gypsy or Roma backgrounds who had been in care received a caution or convictions. The parallel figures for children from some other ethnic groups are:
- Travellers of Irish heritage 46%
- White and Black Caribbean background 42%
- Black Caribbean 39%
- White British 34%
The research sets out four key findings:
- Care-experienced children were disproportionately likely to have youth justice involvement compared to those without care experience, with some groups of ethnic minority children being even more likely to have youth justice involvement.
- The gap in youth justice involvement between care-experienced children and non-care-experienced children widened over time. This gap widened further still for some groups of ethnic minority children.
- Typically, care-experienced children had much more youth justice involvement than non-care-experienced children. Some groups of ethnic minority care- experienced children had even higher levels of youth justice involvement.
- A significantly higher proportion of care-experienced children received a custodial sentence compared non-care-experienced children. Custodial sentences were twice as common among Black and Mixed ethnicity care-experienced children compared to White care-experienced children.
Policy developments and action
The authors note that the Lammy Review and a a cross-departmental National Protocol on Reducing Unnecessary Criminalisation of Looked-after Children and Care Leavers raised these issues and represented national recognition of the way children in care are unfairly vulnerable to be criminalised (frequently through behaviour which would not be deemed criminal if they were living at home).
However, the briefing notes that, as yet, there has been limited evidence of meaningful change on the ground. In particular, there has been little effective action to address the fact that ethnic minority children in care face a ‘double whammy’ of disadvantage that increases their risk of youth justice involvement.
Thanks to Andy Aitchison for kind permission to use the header image in this post. You can see Andy’s work here