We welcome a new approach to help kids in residential care keep out of the criminal justice system

We welcome a new approach to help kids in residential care keep out of the criminal justice system

Wednesday, 25 January 2017

We welcome work underway that will see fewer children being propelled from residential care into the criminal justice system unnecessarily.

Our Care Not Custody report looks at the link between child protection residential care and criminal charges for children.

Executive Director Family, Youth and Children’s Law Nicole Rich said, ‘Our research has found that almost one in three children who come to us for child protection legal help, and who are placed in out-of-home care, later returns for help with criminal charges – often within months of their placement in care.

‘What is often missing from the attention on Victoria's youth justice system is a more detailed understanding of how this link is formed, and what we can do about it.

‘One clear factor pushing children from care to custody is an over-reliance by at least some residential care facilities on call-outs to police to manage minor behavioural incidents,’ Ms Rich said.

‘We see too many cases where police are called to residential care facilities to deal with behaviour that would be very unlikely to attract police attention if it happened in a traditional family home – for example, spreading food around a unit or smashing a coffee mug. Charges also often follow unnecessarily.’

Following positive discussions with the Victorian Government and other stakeholders, Victoria Legal Aid is now working with others to draft a protocol similar to one recently introduced in New South Wales. The protocol 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.

'We are delighted that concrete steps are being taken to address the problem, with a working group now looking at developing a protocol for Victoria under the watch of the Roadmap for Reform Implementation Advisory Group. 

‘Victoria is making great strides in improving the child protection system and has succeeded in getting many children out of residential care units and into family-based care settings,’ said Ms Rich.

‘A new state-wide framework for dealing with low-level incidents within residential care would further support these efforts and help protect some of Victoria’s most vulnerable children.’

The Care Not Custody report shows that the 11–17 year olds Victoria Legal Aid assisted over the past five years with child protection matters who were placed in out-of-home care are:

  • almost twice as likely to face criminal charges as those who remain with their families (30 per cent in care were charged, compared with 18 per cent not in care)
  • more likely than other children to be charged with criminal damage for property-related offending (compared with theft, which is the most common criminal charge for young people generally). 

Of those in out-of-home care who were charged:

  • 69 per cent were aged 14 or under
  • 83 per cent received their first charge within 12 months of being put in care
  • 77 per cent were charged with property offences (the most common charge being criminal damage)
  • 9 per cent identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

Read our report

Read more about the report.

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).  

Read about the experiences of our clients

Jess's story

Jon's story

Luke's story

Bella's story

Tamara's story

Contact us

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.

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