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Children in public law system more likely to offend

Young people involved in family court proceedings are three times more likely to get caught up in the criminal justice system, according to research.

A study by the Ministry of Justice has shown that young people who were in contact with the public law system aged 10–17 were 2.9 times more likely to have offended between the ages of 10 and 17 than the general population.

In addition, 39% of individuals had committed one or more proven offences by the age of 17.

Young people in contact with the family court also committed more offences on average than the general population. Between the ages of 10 and 17, this group committed, on average, 2.5 proven offences, whereas the general population committed 0.3. Eight percent committed 10 or more proven offences and as a result, they were 19.2 times more likely to commit 10 or more offences between the ages of 10 and 17 than the general population.

Children involved in the public law system were also 4.6 times more likely to commit a violence against the person offence between the ages of 10 and 17 than the general population.

Of those who offended between the ages of 10 and 17, the most common age of first offence was 13, compared to 15 in the general population.

In addition, between the ages of 10 and 14, when compared to the general population, they were:

  • 4.3 times more likely to commit a proven offence (compared to 2.9 for offences between the ages of 10 and 17 and 2.3 between the ages of 10 and 21); and
  • 9.2 times more likely to commit more than one offence (compared to 5.1 for offences between the ages of 10 and 17 and 3.8 between the ages of 10 and 21).

“The association between public law and offending may be explained to a large extent by shared risk factors. Young people going through public law cases are likely to come from high risk family backgrounds affected by poverty, abuse and deprivation,” said the report.

Research by MoJ, for example, showed that the most common reasons for care or emergency protection orders in England and Wales were neglect (53%) and physical abuse (33%). In addition, emotional abuse was a reason in just over a fifth (22%) of cases and child sexual abuse was cited in 9% of cases.

Neglect and abuse are also associated with a higher risk of young people becoming involved in antisocial behaviour and crime.

When children have been taken into local authority care, placement type and instability have been linked to higher offending rates.

“Findings indicate an association between contact with the family courts as a child or young person and an increased likelihood of proven offending,” said the report.

It concludes by stating that the analysis points to the importance of early years preventative approaches. Consideration should also be given to more joint working between the family and youth justice systems.

“Also, given the suggested importance of gender and age when in contact with the public law system, it is likely that those in contact with the public law system in their early teenage years may benefit from targeted support and intervention around their offending, particularly females,” the report concludes.

Using family court data to explore links between adverse family experiences and proven youth offending

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