IPRT publishes Care and Justice report on children with care experience in criminal justice system
More inter-agency collaboration, sustained policy attention, and the systematic collection of data are needed to tackle the issue of children and young people in care coming into contact with the criminal justice system. That’s according to Acting Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), Fíona Ní Chinnéide, who was speaking at the launch of the IPRT research report ‘Care and Justice’.
Research evidence from several countries shows that children with care experience are over-represented in the criminal justice system. However, to date, no specific research had been carried out on this topic in Ireland. The ‘Care and Justice’ report presents the findings of a small-scale exploratory study, commissioned by IPRT with the objective of exploring the extent to which children with care experience are over-represented in the Irish youth justice system.
Research undertaken comprised a review of literature and policy documents; submissions from individuals and organisations; and a series of in-depth interviews with representatives from the legal profession, the Irish Youth Justice Service, the Child and Family Agency (Tusla), Oberstown Children Detention Campus, An Garda Síochána, service providers and advocacy organisations working directly with children and young people in care.
Ms Ní Chinnéide said: “The report highlights that, while the vast majority of children in care do not come into contact with the criminal justice system, crossing the boundaries between the ‘care’ and ‘justice’ systems appears to be an area of concern for a small cohort of young people in care, particularly those placed in residential care settings. This is especially evident at the higher end of the youth justice system, that is, when children are prosecuted in the courts and placed in detention.
“Despite the anecdotal evidence that indicates an over-representation of children and young people in care in the youth justice system, there is a lack of systematic data collected by State agencies to identify the extent of this issue. As a result, there is no clear overall picture of the situation and we cannot reliably compare with non-care groups on a statistical basis.
“Our research indicates, however, that some systemic factors may lead to young people from care coming into contact with the criminal justice system; this includes the type and quality of care provision and how the criminal justice system responds to this cohort. The report shows that current service provision, such as the Garda Youth Diversion Programme, may not be adequately responsive to the needs of children and young people in care. The report also shows that children and young people in care are less likely to be able to access supports that would reduce their likelihood to be remanded into custody, such as the pilot Bail Supervision Scheme. We are very concerned that young people in State care should have the same or even greater access to diversion and other services as young people living with their families.
“We have also seen evidence that transitioning from care into adulthood may be particularly challenging for some young people who come from a residential care setting. There is a need for sustained supports and aftercare, as young people transition from care into adulthood at a more accelerated pace than their non-care peers.”
Based on the research findings, IPRT has formulated 12 recommendations under seven thematic headings; key recommendations include:
- Data collation: A number of State agencies including Tusla and An Garda Síochána should collate and publish aggregate data to identify the number of children and young people in care coming into contact with the youth justice system.
- Inter-agency working: A joint national protocol should be developed between Tusla and An Garda Síochána to address and respond to offending in care placements. This protocol should address a number of key areas including: reporting, joint training, response to incidents and the potential for restorative practice and diversionary approaches.
- Awareness-raising and training: The Department of Children and Youth Affairs and the Irish Youth Justice Service should consider the development of joint-training for professionals working with children in care. The training should include strategies to reduce the number of children in care coming into contact with the criminal justice system. Strategies should include: de-escalation techniques, management of challenging behaviour, restorative practice and trauma informed practice.
Ms Ní Chinnéide added: “Our report clearly indicates that there has been a lack of sustained policy attention in relation to the extent to which young people from care come into contact with the criminal justice system. This is evident, for instance, in the fact that no statutory agency systematically collects data on the topic.
“Children and young people in residential care often have multiple and complex needs, which require a coordinated response across a range of agencies. However, there is no joint national policy between Tusla, residential care service providers and An Garda Síochána to manage and address offending in care placements.
“A call for a better-coordinated response between these agencies, along with the Irish Youth Justice Service and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, is among the clear recommendations we have identified and included in this report.”
The report was written for IPRT by Dr Nicola Carr (University of Nottingham) and Dr Paula Mayock (Trinity College Dublin).
The report launch took place at the Ombudsman for Children’s Office and included contributions from Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon; report author, Dr Nicola Carr (University of Nottingham); Policy Manager at EPIC, Karla Charles; and Partner with KOD Lyons, Gareth Noble.