Report Reveals Role of Trauma in Childhood Offending: Reforms Canvassed to More Holistically Address Causes of Children’s Offending and Better Protect the Community

Media Release

Embargoed until 00:01 a.m. (AEST) Tuesday 2 June 2020

The Sentencing Advisory Council today 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. The series has found 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.

The report finds that there is currently no legislative guidance and only limited case law on the relevance of trauma, including child abuse, to sentencing children. The report also identifies barriers to fully informing sentencing courts in Victoria about a child’s history of trauma.

The report canvasses potential reforms to address these issues, including:

  • 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.

The suggested reforms stem from:

  • the Council’s findings in the Crossover Kids series, including that children known to child protection are over-represented among sentenced children
  • the perspectives and insights of the many youth justice and child protection stakeholders consulted during the Crossover Kids series
  • an extensive review of scientific research showing how trauma can affect the psychological and neurological development of children in ways that increase their likelihood of offending.

Quotes Attributable to Council Deputy Chair Lisa Ward

‘This 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.  

‘The current legislation specifies matters that courts must consider when sentencing children, but there is no express reference to the relevance of childhood trauma. Our research indicates that this should be addressed.

‘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.’

[END]

The full report, Crossover Kids: Vulnerable Children in the Youth Justice System. Report 3: Sentencing Children Who Have Experienced Trauma, will be available on the Council’s website on Tuesday 2 June 2020.