Abused children in criminal justice system in the West Midlands

Tuesday, 16th March 2021

NINE in ten children in the criminal justice system are known or suspected to have been abused, according to “distressing” research from the region.

A research project involving 80 children in the wider West Midlands also showed seven out of ten were known or suspected to have lived with domestic violence – some of which was extreme in nature.

The report recommends “targeting resources” at families who are at highest risk of social exclusion, as well as the “potential for decriminalisation of children who commit lower level seriousness offences such as non-violent or non-sexual offences”.

The research was carried out by the West Midlands Combined Authority, West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, local authority-led Youth Offending Teams (YOTs) and Dr Alex Chard of YCTCS Ltd, a company providing resources for agencies managing services for children and young people.

Cases were drawn from Birmingham, Coventry, Dudley, Sandwell, Solihull, Walsall, Wolverhampton, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Telford & Wrekin and Worcestershire.

Children were currently known to the YOT workers engaged in this research, who had been through custody, been the subject of community penalties or were early entrants into the criminal justice system.

It found:
  • Nine out of ten children were known or suspected to have been abused
  • Nine out of ten were known to social care because of levels of needs or abuse
  • For eight out of every ten children, their father was absent
  • Eight in ten children are known or suspected to have a poor physical or mental health, neurodivergence or a learning disability
  • Eight out of every ten had attended two or more secondary schools
  • Seven in every ten children are known or suspected to have lived with domestic violence, some of which was extreme in nature

It states some of the most concerning examples of abuse and adversity suffered by children included:

  • Familial sexual abuse and rape
  • “Extreme” family violence including children being hospitalised, seeing sexual violence and mothers with significant injuries from domestic violence
  • Long-standing deprivation and neglect including “developmental delay due to malnutrition”
  • Fathers who were “gang-involved” and mothers who were sex workers (including funding addiction)
  • Homes where there were no carpets, doors off the hinges, children without clean bedding, sheets used as curtains
  • Children abandoned or rejected by families, including the use of restraining orders to prevent children from seeing their own families

The report, written by Dr Alex Chard, states: “Exposure to abuse as a child may recalibrate the emotional response system affecting behaviour and leaving latent vulnerability to aggressive behaviour, psychiatric disorder and poor life outcomes.”

A joint foreword written by West Midlands Mayor Andy Street and PCC David Jamieson states: “We initiated this research because we believed that both the extent and impact of trauma for some children was having a profound effect on these young people’s vulnerability.

“This extremely detailed and sophisticated study of children in our region has shown this to be the case, and the picture presented by the evidence is distressing.

“Vitally, these findings substantiate the case for robust investment in supporting vulnerable children and families in early years, health, schools and in their homes, before problems become more serious.

“It also strongly supports the case for providing more supportive avenues for children who have entered the criminal justice system.”