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Extent of abuse experienced by children in youth justice system revealed

Nine in 10 children in the youth justice system are either known to have or suspected to have suffered abuse, a report has warned.

Commissioned by the West Midlands Combined Authority (WMCA) and the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, the Punishing Abuse 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.

Report Author Dr Alex Chard said: “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”.

“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,” he added.

The research based on the experiences of 80 children in the criminal justice system found that only one child had no recorded abuse or adverse childhood effects.

It highlights:

- Nine in 10 children are known or suspected to have been abused

- Eight in 10 children are known or suspected to have a health issue

- Eight in 10 were excluded from school or attended multiple secondary schools

- Seven in 10 are known or suspected to have experienced domestic abuse during childhood

- Seven in 10 children are known or suspected to be a victim of violence

- Seven in 10 children lived in poverty.

“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,” said the report.

The report makes a number of recommendations:

- Targeted resources for families at the highest risk of social exclusion – including, training and employment as well as supporting access to opportunities.

- Schools should be 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.

- Primary health and social care services need to help parents further develop their skills to nurture children and develop positive patterns of attachment.

- Early infancy is the most critical period in terms of the development of positive patterns of attachment between children and their carers. West Midland health services should review the extent to which primary health services, including health visitors consider attachment in child assessments.

- Reduce prosecutions of vulnerable children in public care. This will involve working closely with the Crown Prosecution Service to explore new ways of doing things.

- Play a key role in the process of devolution of powers and financial resources that relate to youth justice from central government.

a) Work with partners to re-imagine youth justice in the West Midland that takes full account of abuse and loss.

b) Undertake or commission a regional review of Youth Offending Team function and resourcing.

c) Monitor the effectiveness of youth justice reforms and to champion the needs of children who are at risk of criminalisation.

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,” Mr Jamieson concluded.

Punishing Abuse Report

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