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Are we getting it right for young victims of crime?

A review of children's entitlements in the victims' code...

This review presents the findings from a research project carried out by the Victims’ Commissioner Office into the provision of children’s entitlements as set out in the Victims’ Code.

The purpose of the research was to establish whether children are afforded their rights, as set out under the Victims’ Code and whether these rights are delivered with the decency and sensitivity that young victims of crime deserve.

Twelve children and young people, aged 9 – 17, and in some cases their families, were interviewed for this review. They were asked whether they had been informed about and received their entitlements under the Victims’ Code from the point of reporting a crime to the end of their trial at court. Respondents were also prompted to give further details about their experience including anything that helped them as well as anything that they found difficult about their journey through the criminal justice system.

The review is a thematic analysis of the children’s responses. It examines the delivery of these entitlements in relation to the four key elements that we know to work when supporting victims of crime: through the effective provision of timely and accurate information and communication, transparent procedural justice, effective multi-agency working and professionalised victim advocate services.

The review found a mixture of experiences for children when receiving their entitlements under the Victims’ Code. There were some examples of good practice, particularly in relation to young victims’ attendance at court, but on the whole the young victims who were interviewed were not informed about or did not receive all of their entitlements under the Code.

Many of the children and their families did not feel that they were treated with dignity and respect by criminal justice agencies, with some feeling that they were not believed nor taken seriously because of their age. Despite this issue being highlighted in previous reviews such as Professor Jay’s Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Rotherham (2014) and NSPCC/Metropolitan Police’s report on sexual abuse allegations against Jimmy Saville (2013), it seems that lessons are still not being learnt about believing young victims when they come forward and taking them seriously.

Children and young people’s experience of the criminal justice system does not always reflect what is known to help support victims cope and recover from the crime. In particular the children, young people and their families expressed confusion and frustration because of a lack of accurate and timely information and communication. Some children and young people reported a perceived lack of procedural justice in which they were made to feel like criminals themselves. The Victims’ Code does not mandate a multi-agency approach to supporting victims, but the children and young people in this review reported that services outside of the remit of the Victims’ Code, such as social services and education, also had a great impact on their experience of the criminal justice system.

This review concluded that the provision of a professional victims’ advocate service would help alleviate many of the frustrations and difficulties that children, young people and their families reported in this review.There are some key recommendations that should help improve the experience of young victims in the criminal justice system. These include: criminal justice agencies to review their policies and procedures to ensure that they are fit for purpose in delivering enhanced entitlements to children as set out in the Victims’ Code; criminal justice agencies to review their literature, materials and communication methods to ensure that they are appropriate for children and families; access to registered intermediaries to support children during police questioning and when giving evidence at court; regular and constant monitoring of compliance with the Victims’ Code; nationally representative measurement of victim satisfaction for childhood victims of crime and their families; and a victims’ advocate to provide children, young people and their families with a seamless and dedicated single point of contact throughout their criminal justice experience.