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Criminal Care? · 29 Mar 2019

Disrupting the Routes between Care and Custody

Jo Staines introduces a new Nuffield Foundation funded study to explore the experiences of girls and women who have been in both the care and criminal justice systems

We are a team of four academics with long-standing interests in the inter-relationship between the care and criminal justice systems.  Claire Fitzpatrick’s recent work has focused primarily on the neglected needs of care-leavers in the criminal justice system; Julie Shaw’s research explores the perspectives of care experienced young people who have been involved in the youth justice system and the professionals who work with them, as well as the sexual and criminal exploitation of children in care; and Jo’s work on remand foster care and adolescents’ experience of care led her to become a member of the Laming Review (2016).  Our newest team member, Katie Hunter, is finalising her PhD thesis on the criminalisation of Black and Minority Ethnic children and looked after children in the youth justice system.

Claire, Julie and I met at a conference on the over-representation of care-experienced young people in the youth justice system in Bristol in 2016.  Reflecting on our previous work, we discussed how the needs and experiences of care-experienced girls and women who have also been involved in the criminal justice system have been neglected in research and policy.  Rather, the focus has primarily been on boys and men, who are more likely to be involved in the criminal justice system.  What research there is indicates that girls may experience negative stereotyping on the basis of their care status and involvement in offending, which is further compounded by their gender.

We decided to join forces to seek to redress this balance.  Led by Claire, we applied for Nuffield Foundation funding to conduct a research project to specifically explore the experiences of care-experienced females in the criminal justice system.  Our funding request was granted, and following formal approval by Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service and the successful recruitment of Katie, our research began in February 2019.

Our first step is to conduct a targeted literature review, which will help us to identify the key messages from existing research and highlight the gaps in our knowledge.  Following this review, we will be seeking to interview girls who are currently in care and who are also involved in the youth justice system, and imprisoned women who have care experience.  These interviews will explore the individual care stories of the participants and their perspectives on how being in care may, or may not, have affected their involvement in the criminal justice system.

The project gives voice to views that are rarely heard

By prioritising the specific experiences of care-experienced girls and those in custody, the project gives voice to views that are rarely heard and will help to ensure that policy and practice responses are sufficiently informed by a service-user perspective.  Critically, these interviews will help us to identify what needs to change within both the care and criminal justice system, to disrupt the potential pathway between care and criminal justice.  Because official views on the care-crime connection overwhelmingly focus on the deficits of individuals and their families, it is vital that a voice is given to those with first-hand experience of care and criminal justice in order to provide a counter-narrative to the discourse that has dominated for so long.

Interviews will also be conducted with a range of professionals and practitioners working within the care and justice systems, including care workers and police, to explore their perspectives and recommendations for reform. These interviews will explore the barriers to effective working in the care system and criminal justice settings, to enable us to consider ways of overcoming these obstacles such that we can make recommendations for how policy and practice might be improved.

Our research should be completed in the spring of 2021. We will be supported by a Steering Group – a team of policy-makers, professionals and academics – who will assist us in managing the project and disseminating our findings.   We aim to provide sound research evidence that will support a change in professional judgements and actions that will lead to a reduction in the number of care-experienced females who also become involved in the criminal justice system.  Like the Howard League, we hope our findings will challenge prejudices and assumptions that allude to the inevitability of those with care experience being over-represented in youth justice settings – because there is nothing inevitable about it.



  • Lisa Foo says:

    This sounds so exciting and groundbreaking. I look forward to hearing more about it. I’m currently working as an Advocate within a Female Secure Children’s Home and I would like to help too if possible.

    • Jo Staines says:

      Hi Lisa
      Please do contact me directly, as it would be great to be able to draw on your experience and knowledge too.

  • Julie Goode says:

    This is brilliant. Years ago I was a residential care worker, I am now an advisory teacher for looked after children and I also foster and am a supported lodgings provider for care leavers.
    I was wondering how you will separate care status from prior adverse childhood experience, ie how will you decide which factors are pre care and which are purely due to being looked after?

    • Jo Staines says:

      Hi Julie
      This will be one of the key areas of our research and one that we hope to unpick through interviews with women and girls with both care and criminal justice experience, as well as the professionals working with them. If you have any thoughts on how best we can do this, we would love to hear them!
      all the best

  • James Keeley says:

    Very important work. Well done.

  • Maria Rooney says:

    I would like to be involved in this research/steering group if possible, I am an Independent Social Worker & Advocate now but I worked in Children’s Social Care for 12 years with BAME & high risk/highly vulnerable girls in care who were also involved in the criminal justice system.

    • Jo Staines says:

      Hi Maria
      Thanks for your comment and interest in our project. Please do email me so we can discuss potential ways of drawing on your knowledge and expertise.
      all the best

    • John Murray says:

      No doubt Maria, you’d have a lot of insider information that would help explain how this horrible situation has been, for so long, simply ignored.

      Very excited to hear of this research and await its findings with great expectations!

      • Jo Staines says:

        Hi John
        It is great to know that our research is being welcomed by so many. We hope to provide regular updates on our progress, so please do keep an eye out for them!
        all the best

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