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In Care, Out of Trouble

How the life chances of children in care can be transformed by protecting them from unnecessary involvement in the criminal justice system

This review was established to examine the reasons for, and how best to tackle, the over representation of children in care, or with experience of care, in the criminal justice system in England and Wales.

Aiming to reduce the disproportionate number of young people who are, or have been, in public care progressing into custody is laudable. The over representation of looked after children in the youth justice system has to be challenged and changed. But it soon becomes distressingly clear that starting at the point of evidence of criminal behaviour is for many young people simply too late in the day. Remedial work and rehabilitation are essential but prevention is so much more rewarding and fruitful for the young person and wider society. It is against that background that it would be good to pause and reflect again on the importance of childhood in the social and emotional development of every young person.

Good parenting entails a lifetime commitment. It creates the solid foundation on which is built the evolving unique personality that, hopefully, will in due course become the fulfilled adult. The essential ingredients are security, stability, unselfish love and an unyielding commitment to give the child the best start and hope for the future. It is in this context that young children develop self confidence, trust, personal and social values and optimism. Loss, neglect or trauma at this early stage in life often result in profound and enduring consequences.

Great emphasis should be placed on early life experiences. Guidance and support through pregnancy and during the early months of parenthood should be available to all who need it. There are clear long term benefits in identifying problems at an early stage rather than delaying until a crisis. It is in all of our interests that as many children as possible are enabled to grow up to become successful, law abiding and fulfilled citizens well able to be good role models for the next generation. We all have a part to play in this, but especially the wider family. At times of difficulty steps should be taken to involve other family members and encourage their different contributions and support. Handled in the right way a crisis might be short-lived and stability restored. After all, this is a well trodden path in many families without the assistance of the state. This can be hugely satisfying work for frontline staff. Working in this way in some local authorities has already resulted in fewer children coming into care.