Nine out of ten children in the criminal justice were known or suspected to have been abused, according to research into lives of 80 children in the West Midlands. The new report Punishing Abuse was commissioned by the West Midlands Combined Authority and the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner and looks at the extent of childhood adversity and trauma in children in the region. According to its author Dr Alex Chard, the research evidences the extent to which many of these children were ‘identifiable at an early age and the systemic service failure to meet their needs’.
Of the 80 children studied, nine in ten were known or suspected to have been abused; eight in ten known or suspected to have a health issue; and eight in ten were subject to school exclusion or attendance at multiple secondary schools. Seven in ten were known or suspected to have lived with domestic violence whilst growing up; seven in ten children known or suspected to be a victim of violence;and seven in ten children lived in poverty. ‘There was only one child with no recorded abuse or childhood adversity,’ the report says.
‘Poverty, disadvantage and social exclusion, linked with systemic failure to address their needs, creates a conveyor belt which propels vulnerable children towards exploitation and crime,’ comments Dr Chard. ‘This report portrays the experiences children in the justice system have suffered, this is profoundly saddening and shocking.’
According to Chard, many children in the youth justice system in the West Midlands have ‘endured street or gang violence, some have transitioned here from countries known for genocide, many have been criminally or sexually exploited – or on occasions both. Some are parents themselves or have experienced the loss and trauma of a termination’. The children had experienced ‘significant parental loss and family abuse’. ‘There were more children who had experienced four or more types of child abuse than those who had experienced none in the study,’ the report said. ‘For many children the abuse was sustained and for some extremely violent.’
The extent of school exclusions and disengagement from the education system was ‘overwhelming’. ‘The overwhelming majority of these children were well known to children’s services and a significant number had been in public care,’ it continued.
The report calls for funding for families at the highest risk of social exclusion including, training and employment as well as supporting access to opportunities; support for schools, to eliminate school exclusions; and primary health and social care support for parents to develop their skills to nurture children and develop positive patterns of attachment including Sure Start and family centres. The report also calls for reduction in prosecutions of vulnerable children in public care by working closely with the Crown Prosecution Service and reviewing local Youth Offending Teams.