Report from Sentencing Advisory Council shows role of trauma in children’s choices
The Sentencing Advisory Council released the third and final report in its series on ‘crossover kids’ – children sentenced or diverted in the Children’s Court of Victoria who are also known to the Child Protection Service – this week, finding that children known to child protection are over-represented among sentenced and diverted children.
The new report identifies possible changes to the youth justice system to more holistically and effectively address the causes of children’s offending. While the report deals with Youth Justice, and is therefore of most interest to those working in the outside school hours care (OSHC) portion of the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector, many of the findings demonstrate that the impact of trauma begins in early childhood, and can have lifelong consequences.
Finding that there is “currently no legislative guidance and only limited case law on the relevance of trauma, including child abuse,” in sentencing children, the report also identifies barriers to fully informing sentencing courts in Victoria about a child’s history of trauma.
Potential reforms to address these issues as proposed by the report authors include:
- amending legislation to clearly outline the relevance of factors such as childhood trauma and out-of-home care to sentencing children
- funding the expansion of the specialised Children’s Court throughout regional Victoria
- introducing a ‘crossover list’ in the Children’s Court to enable a more holistic approach to children with dual youth justice and child protection involvements
- introducing pre-trial youth justice family group conferencing to intervene early and address the causes of children’s offending
- making information about a child’s protection history readily available to sentencing courts
- empowering courts to order child protection workers to attend court in criminal matters where the Department of Health and Human Services has parental responsibility for a child
- ensuring that culturally appropriate specialist services are available for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and their families, including in regional and remote areas of Victoria.
Council Deputy Chair, Lisa Ward, said the report provides insights into the complex effects of trauma on children, and the importance of ensuring that sentences imposed on children with a history of trauma support their recovery – both for their sake and the community’s.
“Many children who start offending have themselves been victims of crime. Childhood trauma affects children’s physical and neurological development in ways that increase their likelihood of offending. Recognising and addressing childhood trauma is a vital crime prevention strategy” she added.
Noting the impact of the first years of life in forming and shaping lifetime outcomes, Ms Ward continued.
“We know that a child’s early involvement in the criminal justice system predicts ongoing involvement in crime. If we can effectively address their trauma, we can help avoid a lifetime of damage to children, their families and the community.”
The full report, Crossover Kids: Vulnerable Children in the Youth Justice System. Report 3: Sentencing Children Who Have Experienced Trauma, is available here.