Punishment following conviction depends very much on the nature and circumstances of the crime, along with a consideration of the particular characteristics of your child. The courts recognise that the immaturity of youth tempts some along the wrong path, and that other crimes are the result of moments of stupidity or intoxication. First time offenders, save for the most serious matters, will receive a referral order. This is a direction to appear before a referral panel, a group of professionals and lay people who will work with you and your child to identify any underlying problems that may have contributed to the offending behaviour and work towards resolving those. A multi-agency approach often means that offending behaviour can be nipped in the bud before it escalates out of control.
Repeat offenders can be sentenced to financial penalties (payable by you, the parents) or a youth rehabilitation order, which is a community order with a range of possible conditions attached. The idea is to mark the offending behaviour with a consequence and in relation to the youth rehabilitation order also to provide a constructive framework for rehabilitating the offender and discouraging future offending behaviour.
At the extreme end, either for the offender committing a serious crime, or for the repeat offender, prison might be the only option. At March 2008, the total number of under-18 year olds in custody was 2,942. The consequences of offending often outlast the period of punishment, with publicised court appearances harming the child’s prospects of settling in a community, and the need in many instances to declare the conviction when applying for jobs. Some convictions (for example, for violent offences) may prevent your child working with children (for example, childcare), and others (for example, drugs offences) result in entry into foreign countries, notably the USA, being denied. Previous convictions can also be cited in other criminal proceedings in many cases, so the past is not always capable of easily being left behind.
Thanks to Andrew Keogh, criminal defence lawyer and editor of CrimeLine for his help with this section and an earlier version which appeared in A Parent’s Guide to the Law by Jon Robins (LawPack , 2009). We’re grateful also to Kim Evans for her help.