Looked after children and offending: reducing risk and promoting resilience

In this guest post, Gareth Crossman, Executive Director of Policy, Communications and Fundraising at TACT, a fostering and adoption charity, highlights research done with the University of East Anglia on the topic of looked after children and offending. (371 words)

In 2010, TACT and the University of East Anglia’s Centre for Research on the Child and Family were awarded a research grant by the Big Lottery Fund. This funded a major project examining the relationship between children in care and the criminal justice system. One hundred young people, along with local authorities across England and Wales, took part in a series of detailed interviews and surveys. The aim was to investigate the factors that caused young people in care to be at risk of entry into the criminal justice system. And, crucially, what were the factors that could promote resilience and help keep them away from criminalisation.

Young people in care are often stereotyped as likely to become criminals. There is no doubt that statistics about prison populations show disproportionate numbers of people who have experienced being in care. However, nine out of ten young people who go into care will never come into contact with the police. The research bore out what TACT’s own experience told us; that when the care system works well it can prove hugely effective in keeping young people out of the criminal justice system. However, negative experiences can lead to greatly enhanced prospects of criminalisation.

The two critical periods are entry into care as an adolescent and the period immediately after leaving care. Since the research was published in 2012, much attention has been paid to leaving care. In particular the government has rolled out ‘Staying Put’ pilots allowing young people to stay with their foster carers until the age of 21, across the UK.

TACT believes that greater attention must now also be paid to adolescents entering care. The TACT/UEA report made over 30 recommendations to police, local authorities and other agencies on how to prevent unnecessary criminalisation. TACT’s work over the next few years will be focusing on the particular opportunities and challenges that adolescent entry into care brings. While criminalisation is one aspect of this, the research findings can be read across into all areas where negative care experience can lead to poor outcomes.

Find out more about the TACT/UEA project on looked after children and offending.

See also: Busting the myths between care and young offenders, an infographic on the topic.

Gareth Crossman is the Executive Director of Policy, Communications and Fundraising at TACT Fostering and Adoption, which is the UK’s largest charity and voluntary agency providing fostering and adoption services.

For details of the Social Care Workforce Research Unit’s work in this area see our Homelessness Research Programme, where we also identify ways in which multiple exclusion homelessness may have associations with being out of family care. Our research here points to the difficulties for social workers and others when children’s and adults services are not well connected.