One-third of children born between 1996 and 1999 who had experience with the care system received a juvenile justice caution or conviction between the ages of 10 and 17, compared to just 4% of those without care experience, according to an unprecedented study of 2.3 million children.
The number was even greater for some racial and ethnic groups, with 39% of Black Caribbean, 38% of White and Black African, and 42% of White and Black Caribbean children who had been in foster care participating in the juvenile justice system. Black and mixed-ethnicity children who had been in care were nearly twice as likely to have received a prison sentence as White children who had been in care.
The research revealed that 5% of White children who had been in foster care were sentenced to custody, compared to 9% of Black and Mixed ethnicity children who had been in foster care.
The study, which was conducted by Manchester Metropolitan University and Lancaster University, is the largest study of its kind ever conducted in England. It demonstrates that children who have been in care, especially Black children, are statistically overrepresented in the criminal justice system.
The study additionally highlights that high levels of juvenile justice involvement among children who’ve been in care are not an inevitability but a sign that somewhere along the line, they have been failed.
The study, which was funded by an Administrative Data Research UK Research Fellowship, analyzed newly linked Ministry of Justice and Department of Education data. It included four cohorts of children born between 1996 and 1999, with demographic snapshots extracted from the 2006 to 2009 educational censuses when the children were ten years old, the minimal age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales.
The resulting dataset contains information on approximately 2.3 million children, including demographic information (such as gender and ethnicity), information about children’s services involvement, and/or information about juvenile justice involvement. The data comprised 50,000 children who had been in care, such as foster care, children’s homes, and kinship care.
According to the conclusions of the paper, the authors have outlined a number of policy recommendations, such as improving the availability of linked data from the justice system and other government departments, the publication of data using detailed ethnicity categories, a statutory duty on local authorities to prevent the unnecessary criminalization of children in care and care leavers, and promoting an understanding among youth justice agencies of the needs of children who’ve been in care.