Children Involved in Victoria’s Child Protection System Are Substantially Over-Represented in the Youth Justice System, Report Finds

Media Release

Embargoed until 12:01 a.m. (AEST) Thursday 27 June 2019

The Sentencing Advisory Council today released a report showing that nearly 40% of children sentenced or diverted in the Children’s Court of Victoria in 2016 and 2017 had been the subject of at least one report* to the Victorian child protection service. Nine out of 10 reported children were subject to multiple reports, and more than three-quarters of reported children had at least one report investigated.

The Council analysed statistics for 5,063 children who offended while aged 10 to 17 and received either a sentence or diversion in the Victorian Children’s Court in the calendar years 2016 and 2017. The report found:

  • Almost 1 in 5 of the 5,063 sentenced or diverted children were the subject of a child protection order** made in the Children’s Court at some point in their life (892 children).
  • Nearly 1 in 6 of the sentenced or diverted children experienced out-of-home care (767 children).
  • Sentenced children who were the subject of a child protection report were 8 times more likely than the general population to be Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
  • Sentenced or diverted children who had experienced out-of-home care were 11.5 times more likely than the general population to be Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
  • The highest rates of child protection involvement were found among children sentenced to custodial orders and children aged 10–13 at first sentence.
  • Of the 438 children aged 10–13 at first sentence:
    • 1 in 2 were the subject of at least one child protection report;
    • over 1 in 3 were the subject of a child protection order; and
    • 1 in 3 experienced out-of-home care.
  • Of the 165 children sentenced to custodial orders (a youth justice centre order or youth residential centre order):
    • 1 in 2 were the subject of at least one child protection report;
    • 1 in 4 were the subject of a child protection order; and
    • 1 in 5 experienced residential care.
  • Most (around 4 in 5) of the 767 sentenced or diverted children who experienced out-of-home care had more than one out-of-home care placement. Around 1 in 2 had five or more placements.

Quotes Attributable to Sentencing Advisory Council Deputy-Chair Lisa Ward:

‘This report provides valuable insight into the difficult and sensitive work of the Children’s Court in sentencing children who often have complex needs arising from trauma, abuse, neglect or parental death or incapacitation. It is the first time that research of this magnitude has been published in Victoria looking at children involved in both the youth justice and the child protection systems. The study examined over 5,000 sentenced or diverted children, and analysed their child protection history over 22 years going back as far as 1996.

‘Other valuable case-study research has been published looking at smaller numbers of children involved in youth justice and child protection. This study provides a big-picture, high-level view across the whole system and across the whole state.

‘We know that children’s experience of abuse and trauma has consequences for their emotional development and may affect their responses to perceived threats, making offending more likely. But the risk of involvement in the criminal justice system is also increased when children in state care are prosecuted for behavior such as property damage that would otherwise have been dealt with by parents or carers within the family home.

‘Children in out-of-home care, particularly residential care, are some of the most vulnerable, traumatised and disadvantaged children in our community. We need to ensure that the Victorian sentencing framework reflects the circumstances of these children, as well as children who are living in their family home.’ 

[END]

*In this report, the term ‘child protection report’ refers to any report to the Victorian child protection service (e.g. by a family member or teacher) raising concerns that a child is in need of protection. The 1,938 children who were the subject of a child protection report included 400 children who did not have a report about them investigated by child protection. Therefore, a caution in considering these children is that, while they were known to child protection, the issues reported in these cases did not meet the threshold for protective intervention.

**In this report, the term ‘child protection order’ refers collectively to four categories of orders made by the Family Division of the Children’s Court of Victoria: protection orders, interim accommodation orders, permanent care orders and therapeutic treatment orders.

The full report, ‘Crossover Kids’: Vulnerable Children in the Youth Justice Systemand a two-page fact-sheet will be available on the Council’s website on Thursday 27 June 2019.