Care not Custody – a new approach to keep kids in residential care out of the criminal justice system

Care not Custody – a new approach to keep kids in residential care out of the criminal justice system

Our recent review of our child protection client data from 2011 to 2016 found that, of those aged 11–17 who are placed in out-of-home care, almost one in three young people later returns to us for assistance with a criminal matter. The problem appears to be particularly acute for children placed in residential care.

Our report shows that:

  • one clear factor pushing children from care into custody is an over-reliance by at least some residential care facilities on call-outs to police to manage challenging behaviour
  • these practices are entrenching children, often from a very young age, in a cycle of involvement with the police and the courts.   

Inside this report

Our Care not Custody report:

  1. gives a brief overview of the residential care system in Victoria and the backgrounds of children placed in residential care
  2. discusses the results of academic studies on the links between out-of-home care and criminal justice outcomes, and the reasons why children in care more frequently end up on our juvenile detention systems
  3. examines the experiences of our clients who are placed in out-of-home care, and the reasons why their interactions with the criminal justice system tend to escalate upon their placement in care.   

Download Care not Custody – A new approach to keep kids in residential care out of the criminal justice system (pdf, 2.53 MB) or the accessible Word version (226.87 KB).

Key statistics

Our research found that almost one-in-three children we assist who are placed in out-of-home care later returns to us for help with criminal charges – often within months of their placement in care.

Child protection clients aged 11–17 who go on to seek our assistance for criminal charges

Characteristics of children placed in OHC who go on to seek our assistance for criminal charges

This research draws on data relating to legally aided clients.

Key recommendation

We have called on the government to adopt a new approach, similar to one recently introduced in New South Wales, which explicitly aims to reduce children’s contact with police.

The New South Wales approach, which was developed in partnership with residential care providers and police, provides a clear and consistent framework and better training and support for staff in residential care units to help them manage low-level incidents within the unit, without needing to involve police.

Read what our clients have experienced

Jess’s story

Jess grew up exposed to family violence and was placed in out-of-home care when she was 13. She was placed in residential care after being moved through multiple foster homes. Find out what happened to Jess when she became upset and frustrated after being cut off from seeing her mother, with whom she was trying to improve her relationship.

Read Jess’s story.

Jon’s story

Jon was born with multiple difficulties, including autism, an intellectual disability and ADHD. From an early age he displayed a range of challenging behaviours, and his mother on occasion had to seek help from neighbours and local police to help calm him down. Jon was 11 when his doctor expressed concern about his escalating behaviour, and his mother was obliged to place him in residential care on a temporary basis. Find out how Jon received 25 criminal charges during the few months he was there.

Read Jon’s story.

Also read

Read the full report

Care not Custody – A new approach to keep kids in residential care out of the criminal justice system (pdf, 2.53 MB) or the accessible Word version (226.87 KB).

More information 

For more information about this report, to get involved in this project or share your experience with us confidentially, please contact Senior Policy and Projects Officer Hannah Northover – (03) 9280 3723.

If you have a media enquiry please contact Senior Communications Adviser Paula Wilson – (03) 9269 0620 or 0438 612 289.