Children in residential care more likely to be labelled persistent offenders

Matching children to the right care placement is key to reducing the number of offences committed in care homes, according to the head of the Scottish executive’s youth justice team.

Speaking at Community Care LIVE Scotland last week, Donna Bell said local authorities’ placement policies were instrumental in influencing the volume of incidents within residential units.

She said that research commissioned by the Scottish Executive as part of a study to consider the impact of residential care on young people’s offending showed that children in residential care who offended once were more likely to do so again than other young offenders.

“Although they make up less than 5% of all children who offend, they make up over 20% of those who do so persistently,” she said, referring to a data sample from 30 residential units across 9 local authorities.

But the fact that almost half of the offences committed by this group over a two month period took place in residential settings supported the complaint that young people in care were disproportionately overrepresented in data on offending, Bell added.

“There was a perception by some that the environment and processes created within a particular unit could lead to increased offending and/or reporting,” she said.

“A range of placements is required to meet the needs of these young people. Some environments, including foster placements, can mean that young people are less likely to offend.”

Bell said the size, quality and location of accommodation was also a factor in the number of offences reported, as was the approach of different units to dealing with incidents.

“A balance needs to be continually found between the local authorities’ requirement to protect the rights of their staff and to consider the best interests of the young people in their care, for example by giving staff the tools and support to deal with challenging behaviours appropriately.”

Contact the author: Lauren Revans


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