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Youth justice, ethnicity, school exclusion, and care experience – reducing criminalisation and achieving better outcomes

  • Date:

The intersection between youth justice, care experience, ethnicity, and school exclusion, is well-recognised, consistently revealing disproportionate outcomes for care-experienced children and young people, those from minoritised ethnic groups, those with special educational needs, and those who have been excluded from school.

The statistics are alarming:  

  • Conviction data: More than half (54%) of looked-after children had a criminal conviction by age 24 compared with 13% of children who had not be in care; that is 1 in 2 children in care compared with 1 in 8 children who had not been in care. 

  • Custodial sentences: 15% (1 in 7) looked-after children received an immediate custodial sentence, meaning they had to spend time in a prison, youth offender institution, or other secure setting (this is the case for only a small minority of children). By comparison, 1% (1 in 100) of children who had not been in care received an immediate custodial sentence. 

  • Special educational needs: Among those who received an immediate custodial sentence by age 24, a striking 92% (9 in 10) of looked-after children were identified as having special educational needs. 

Related statistics on young people who interact with the criminal justice system (not just looked-after children), revealed that:  

  • School exclusions were prevalent among children and young people who later received custodial sentences, with 13% having been expelled (permanently excluded) and 72% having been suspended (fixed-term or fixed-period exclusion).  

  • Racial disparity: Children and young people from minoritised ethnic groups were disproportionately represented among those who later received custodial sentences, revealing shocking statistics when compared to the overall population’s demographic proportions.  


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The ‘National protocol on reducing unnecessary criminalisation of looked-after children’ published by the Department for Education in 2018, addresses the heightened vulnerability of looked-after children and care leavers to involvement in the youth justice system. It recognises the alarming overrepresentation within this demographic and establishes a framework for multi-agency collaboration, outlining key principles for protecting children and young people in Chapter 2. 

The protocol emphasises the importance of understanding the impact of trauma and abuse on development, the potential negative cycle triggered by pre-care experiences and placement moves, and the significance of comprehending local and national factors that can elevate the risk of children and young people being drawn into criminal activities. 

Navigating the complex landscape of the youth justice system requires a nuanced collaboration between social work practitioners and dedicated carers. This involves offering emotional support, acting as an appropriate adult at the police station, facilitating access to specialist legal advice and representation, accompanying young people to meetings and court appearances, managing practical aspects such as transportation, planning for resettlement of remanded young people, navigating stringent bail conditions and court orders, and communicating with various professionals while staying informed and following up on updates. The liaison involves interactions with the police, lawyers, the youth offending service, court staff, clinical psychologists, and so on. 

Tomorrow at 11:30am-1pm, our event ‘Exploring Expertise: Youth justice and care experience – reducing criminalisation and achieving better outcomes’ will explore the crucial intersection of youth justice and care experience. The session will highlight the pivotal role that social work professionals, foster carers, adopters, kinship carers, and those working within legal departments, can play to help reduce criminalisation and achieve better outcomes. 

The event will identify opportunities and resources to enhance the capabilities of these essential advocates, amplifying the impact of their instrumental contributions. It will also emphasise how day-to-day care and thoughtful care planning can be the most direct routes to achieving positive outcomes. 

After an initial presentation, the event will invite an open discussion and initial reflections through a case study analysis, followed by an opportunity to pose your questions to our panel. You will gain insights from a legal perspective, directly from care-experienced young people and attendees. The panel will examine key legal considerations, successes, challenges, avenues for improved support, and the components of effective advocacy. We will also identify some factors contributing to the overrepresentation of care-experienced young people and how these intersect with other aspects of their identities. By merging legal insights with young people’s perspectives, our aim is to offer a comprehensive understanding of these issues. 

We will hear from Kate Aubrey-Johnson, founder and director at Child Rights and Youth Justice (CRYJ), and Dr Laura Janes, a solicitor specialising in representing children and young adults in detention in both penal and mental health settings. Additionally, insights will be shared by the Drive Forward Policy Forum, a group of care-experienced young people campaigning for change and bridging the gap between care-experienced young people and policy makers. Together, they co-authored ‘Dare to Care: Representing care experienced young people’, a guide supporting criminal lawyers in understanding the legal framework and essential considerations when working with care-experienced young people involved with the criminal justice system.  

The guide, produced by the Youth Justice Legal Centre (YJLC), a centre of excellence in youth justice law in England & Wales, aims to reduce unnecessary criminalisation and achieve better outcomes. YJLC operates an advice line providing support to practitioners, children, young people, and their carers.  

Dare to Care: Representing care experienced young people’ serves as a valuable tool for those seeking to ensure that legal representatives are taking all the required and necessary steps to secure better outcomes for care-experienced children and young people involved with the police and criminal justice system.  

We look forward to seeing you!   

Augusta Itua, Legal Consultant, CoramBAAF