Early entry into care, stable placements and purposeful activity can significantly reduce a child’s risk of turning to crime, research published today has found.
The report, ‘Looked after Children and Offending: Reducing Risk and Promoting Resilience’, found the care system can be transformative for troubled children and teenagers and challenges assumptions that going into care increases a child’s risk of offending.
However, the research – commissioned by the charity TACT and conducted by the University of East Anglia – identified risk factors for crime or anti-social behaviour, including early abuse and neglect and the crucial periods of adolescence and leaving care.
Going into care at an early stage and living in a stable placement with sensitive parenting and good professional support minimises a child’s risk of offending behaviour, the research found. Entering care during adolescence can also reduce this risk if children enjoy positive relationships with professionals and constructive activities, it found.
But if children from abusive backgrounds have significant behavioural and emotional problems and are not supported properly in care their risk of offending will increase.
Kevin Williams, chief executive of TACT, said: “This report provides a powerful counterbalance to assumptions that entry into care leads to a life of crime. Children come into care through no fault of their own from backgrounds of abuse, neglect and chaos. This work shows that taking the right steps does transform lives.”
Professor Gillian Schofield from the Centre for Research on the Child and Family at the University of East Anglia, who led the research, said it proves that “even in adolescence and for very troubled young people there are windows of opportunity for change”.
The report made a number of recommendations including that care leavers should be able to stay in care until they are 21, while all entering care should have a full developmental screening for mental health problems, learning difficulties and speech and language issues.
The government should also improve policy commitments and practice protocols to ensure children in care who display challenging behaviour or commit relatively minor offences are not being inappropriately criminalised through police and court involvement.
This should involve better training for professionals, improved working between professionals, local police and courts and an obligation on local authorities to ensure looked after children are not being prematurely criminalised.
Guidance from the Crown Prosecution Service, which relates to the treatment of children in residential care, should also be extended to all children in care, the report recommended.
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