Victoria Legal Aid

We need better responses to young offenders who have been victims of violence, abuse or neglect, wherever they live

We welcome insights from the Sentencing Advisory Council (SAC) third Crossover Kids report, to respond more fairly and effectively to trauma in a young person’s background when sentencing them, to help them avoid reoffending and keep the community safer.

Tuesday 16 June 2020 12:00am

We welcome insights from the Sentencing Advisory Council (SAC) to respond more fairly and effectively to trauma in a young person’s background when sentencing them, to help them avoid reoffending and keep the community safer.

‘This final reportExternal Link in a series from SAC, exploring the extent to which children in the youth justice system are also known to child protection, highlights the vital need for trauma-informed sentencing of children and young people’, said Olivia Greenwell, Manager of Strategy for Family, Youth and Children’s Law. ‘This aligns with our Care Not Custody advocacy which has shown that over half the children placed in state residential care due to being a victim of trauma, abuse or neglect, go on to need legal help for criminal charges within 12 months of this placement,’ she said.

While the nature and gravity of a child’s criminal offending must always be considered and responded to appropriately, too often children are not supported to address behaviours that are arising because of their background as a victim themselves.

‘Our failure to respond to vulnerable children in a trauma-informed way misses opportunities to support them to heal and stop offending, leaving them and the broader community worse off,’ Olivia said.

The SAC report canvasses potential reforms including:

  • changing the law to clearly outline the relevance of factors such as childhood trauma and out-of-home care when sentencing children
  • funding the expansion of the specialised Children’s Court throughout regional Victoria
  • introducing a ‘crossover list’ in the Court to enable a more holistic approach to children with dual youth justice and child protection involvements
  • introducing pre-trial youth justice family group conferencing to intervene early and address the causes of children’s offending
  • making information about a child’s protection history readily available to sentencing courts
  • empowering courts to order child protection workers to attend court in criminal matters where the Department of Health and Human Services has parental responsibility for a child
  • ensuring that culturally appropriate specialist services are available for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families, including in regional and remote areas of Victoria.

We welcome further reform, particularly expanding the specialised Children’s Court throughout regional Victoria. As the report notes, the recommendation for a specialised Children’s Court to be established in Melbourne and then expanded to regional areas was first made in 1984. Currently, only Victorian children who live in the Melbourne metropolitan area have the benefit of a court focused on the unique and specialised needs and circumstances of young people.

‘Our lawyers around Victoria consistently see how young people are disadvantaged because they live in a regional area where services may be limited or unavailable. We support the practical steps outlined in the report that would reduce that disparity,’ said Olivia.

Our client Jon’s story illustrates why the SAC’s finding that a higher proportion of children in regional areas move from child protection involvement to the youth justice system can occur.

Jon’s story

Jon, an 11-year-old VLA client living in a residential care unit an hour’s drive from his parent’s home, was charged with assault on a worker, discharging a missile and criminal damage. Police sought to remand him into custody, but the magistrate refused and decided to take a case management approach, including ordering a Children’s Court Clinic assessment – in particular to have Jon’s medication reviewed because a doctor had said this might be contributing to his behavioural problems.

Because Jon was in a rural area, the process of arranging an assessment took months. In the meantime, the residential unit continued to report him when he misbehaved and police continued to charge him.

The SAC report comes after the release of a complementary reportExternal Link from the Centre for Innovative Justice, ‘Positive Interventions for Perpetrators of Adolescent violence in the home’ (PIPA). The PIPA report also finds that reforms are necessary to better support and address the behaviours of vulnerable young people whose conduct may be affected by a background of family violence, trauma or mental illness, to prevent the escalation into criminal charges.

More information

Read about our Care Not Custody advocacy

Read the Sentencing Advisory Council’s Crossover Kids: Vulnerable Children in the Youth Justice System Report 3External Link

Read the Centre for Innovative Justice report PIPA project: Positive Interventions for Perpetrators of Adolescent violence in the homeExternal Link

Reviewed 14 April 2022