Understanding the over-representation of looked after children in the youth justice system





This (systematic literature) review has been produced to accompany Lord Laming’s independent review of looked after children in the criminal justice system. Lord Laming’s review was established by the Prison Reform Trust in 2015 to investigate the disproportionate numbers of children in care who were involved with the criminal justice system and to make recommendations for reform.

The review takes place within a context of general concern for the short- and long-term outcomes and wellbeing of looked after children in England and Wales. The number of children and young people becoming looked after has increased over the past seven years (Department for Education 2015a), including an increase of those aged over 10 (the minimum age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales).

A substantial body of research suggests that looked after children and young people have significantly worse emotional, psychological and behavioural health, including using illegal drugs and being involved in offending behaviour, and are more likely to experience difficulties in interpersonal relationships than other young people (Landsverk and Garland 1999; Williams et al 2001; Burns et al 2004). Bywaters and others (2014) found that looked after children are more likely to have lived in neighbourhoods with high levels of deprivation (experiencing lower levels of neighbourhood income, fewer employment, education and training opportunities; barriers to housing and services and higher levels of crime; see also Dixon et al 2006). Young people with experience of care are at increased risk for low educational attainment, unemployment, homelessness or housing problems, substance misuse, and physical and mental health difficulties (Barth 1990; Kendrick 2005; Courtney and Dworsky 2006; Montgomery et al 2006; del Valle et al 2008; Gaskell 2010; Allen and Vacca 2011; Dixon et al 2015). A National Audit Office report (2015) highlights that there has been little or no improvement in such outcomes for children in care in recent years, a problem that is compounded by the significant placement instability that many children and young people continue to face, and the distances they may be placed from home.


Reference:  Staines, J. (2016). Risk, Adverse Influence and Criminalisation: Understanding the over-representation of looked after children in the youth justice system. Bristol: Bristol University





This paper presents a systematic review and narrative synthesis of the international literature on looked-after children and young people’s involvement in the youth justice system. It includes both published and ‘grey’ literature, and focuses on specific key areas of research relevant to looked after children’s involvement in the youth justice system: risk and protective factors prior to entry to care; relationships, interventions and experiences during care periods; transitions out of care; and the policies and practices within both the care and youth justice systems that increase or reduce the chances of a looked after child becoming involved in the youth justice system.


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Note that grey literature publications should be referenced in the normal (Author, date) convention. Grey literature is any information that is not produced by commercial publishers. It includes research reports, working papers, conference proceedings, theses, preprints, white papers, and reports produced by government departments, academics, business and industry, although here at lookedafter.org.uk we collate academic research (social research that has a particular theoretical framework) separately from research that is survey-based (designed to identifying so-called 'social facts').



Download this file (risk_adverse_influence_criminalisation_lit_review_lo.pdf)risk_adverse_influence_criminalisation_lit_review_lo.pdf[Staines, J. (2016). Risk, Adverse Influence and Criminalisation: Understanding the over-representation of looked after children in the youth justice system. Bristol: Bristol University]446 kB

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