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Criminal Care? · 29 Mar 2018

Ending criminalisation and system abuse: our Oxford conference

Last week the Howard League held a two-day international conference at the University of Oxford and we presented a paper on our work to end the criminalisation of children in residential care, as part of a wide array of panel discussions which were held across the two days.

A paper was also presented by Dr Julie Shaw, a senior lecturer in Criminology at Liverpool John Moores University, one of several academics who contributed articles to a recent edition of the journal Safer Communities on children in care and the criminal justice system.

Julie’s research, which involved interviews with current and looked-after young people and professionals in one local authority area, makes an important point about ‘system abuse’. It is easy to blame children in residential care, or staff, when criminalisation occurs. But often the way the system itself works exacerbates the problems that already exist in children’s lives and creates new problems, all of which work to make criminalisation more likely.

In particular, the research highlights concerns around a lack of specialist placements, of frequent placement moves and of being placed in isolated, ‘out of the way’ units.

Feelings of rejection and of feeling not wanted were linked to behaviour which led to criminalisation.

We examined similar issues in our briefing on the stories of young people helped by the Howard League’s legal team. Many of the young people in contact with our legal team had experienced a very high number of placement moves. They spoke of how these moves compounded feelings of rejection and of feeling not wanted, and there were very clear links between these feelings and behaviour which led to their criminalisation. Worse, the experience of being criminalised itself once again compounded these feelings and almost inevitably made things worse.

It was good to see Julie present on her own research and to hear these issues being discussed by academics, policymakers and practitioners at the conference. We’ll be taking our own findings to a number of other audiences around the country over the next few months and we’ll provide further updates on this blog.

Andrew Neilson

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