Action needed to stop children in state care entering youth justice

Action needed to stop children in state care entering youth justice

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

We have released new data which shows the continuing need for a protocol between the Victorian government, police and residential care providers to deal with low level incidents within residential care units.

A new analysis of our child protection client data shows more than half of the Victorian children who are placed in state residential care face criminal charges within 12 months.

This data shows that the link between residential care and entry to the criminal justice system is stronger than first thought, with two out of every three young people placed in residential care also needing legal help for criminal charges.

'We know that children are being charged with minor offences, such as smashing a coffee mug, throwing a phone or spreading food around. These would be very unlikely to attract police attention if they happened in a family home,' said Amy Schwebel, Strategy Manager of Family Youth and Children’s Law program.

In 2016 our Care Not Custody report recommended that the Victorian government, police and residential care providers adopt a joint Protocol that explicitly aims to reduce children’s contact with police. This approach has been implemented in New South Wales and overseas with significant rates of success.

That report showed that almost one in three of the children and young people who were placed in out-of-home care – including foster care, relative or other kin care and residential care – also needed legal help for a criminal matter.

Data collected since 2016 shows even more concerning outcomes for children in residential care in particular. 'Children who are placed in residential care are three times more likely to have contact with police and face criminal charges, often for minor offending, than those placed in any other child protection placement type such as foster care, kinship care or with family.

'Alarmingly, 57 per cent of these children in residential units need legal help for criminal matters within the first 12 months of being there, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are overrepresented in this cohort,' Ms Schwebel said.

Ms Schwebel said it was now clear that without adopting a new approach in Victoria, vulnerable children in residential care would continue to have unnecessary, harmful and expensive contact with the criminal justice system.

'It’s unacceptable that children removed from their families to ensure their safety, and placed in residential care, are disproportionately propelled into the very criminal justice system from which they should be protected,' Ms Schwebel added.

Victoria has made several positive inroads into improving the child protection system, including moving many children from residential care into family-based settings. However, it has yet to adopt a formal approach to reduce children’s contact with police.

'We encourage all steps towards delivering a concrete plan to address this problem. We must act now to put a stop to practices that risk entrenching Victoria’s most vulnerable children, often from a very young age, in a cycle of involvement with police and the courts,' Ms Schwebel said.

More information

Read our Care Not Custody report, latest data and the stories of children and young people in residential care.

Listen to an ABC Current Affairs story about the issue.

Media enquiries

For media enquiries contact Alma Mistry, Senior Communications Adviser on 0418 381 327 or

Was this helpful?