It is well documented that children in care – those looked-after by the local authority – are over-represented in the youth justice system.
Reference: Day, A M., Bateman, T., and Pitts, J. (2020). Surviving incarceration: The pathways of looked after and non-looked after children into, through and out of custody. Luton: University of Bedfordshire
Findings from this study confirm, and further illuminate, an existing body of evidence in relation to the incarceration of children in England and Wales.
The majority of children sentenced to custody have unsettled backgrounds, characterised by disadvantage, and exhibit high levels of welfare needs.
Looked-after children are over-represented in the children’s custodial estate.
For the majority of children placed in YOIs and STCs, the experience of custody is largely negative, a lost period with little rehabilitative value that serves to further sever already attenuated links with home, education and community. Children’s treatment within those parts of the secure estate is characterised by high levels of restraint and extensive use of isolation.
Albeit that numbers in the current study were small, children placed in secure children’s homes tend to report more positively about their experiences, describing a caring environment, consistent with the philosophy of those organisations
During the period of detention, maintaining contact with the outside world is extremely important for children, both as a source of support and as a prerequisite of being able to plan for the future once released into the community.
There are considerable challenges for providers of resettlement services. Children tend to regard the transition from custody to community as a window of opportunity but this window can close rapidly where work in custody has not focused on preparation for release, appropriate support in the community is not available, and post-custody interventions do not build on any progress made in the secure estate.
Along the pathways into, through and out of custody, how children see themselves – how they construct their identities – is a powerful influence, albeit mediated by external and systemic factors, for determining future outcomes.
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