Ethnic minority children in care face ‘double whammy’ of disadvantage in youth justice system

Ethnic minority children in care can suffer a ‘double whammy’ in youth justice, according to a new study from Lancaster University.

Inequalities in the youth justice system regarding ethnic minority children and children in care, including foster families, children’s homes or family care, have intensified, with minority children taken in charge being likely to bear the brunt of it, especially those who identify as black.

This, according to the research, results in the “institutionalised criminalization” of ethnic minority children in care who must deal with both the stigma of their ethnicity and the fact of having been in care.

Officially launched today in the Prison Administration Journal, the article ‘Out of Place’: The Criminalization of Black and Minority Ethnic Looked After Children in England and Wales, highlights a disproportionate representation of black and minority ethnic children who have come through the care system.

Research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council analyzed official datasets from the Office for National Statistics, the Department of Education, the Youth Justice Board, the Home Office and the Department of Justice and included 27 in-depth interviews with youth justice and children’s services experts.

The research, led by Dr Katie Hunter, from Lancaster University School of Law, aimed to address obvious gaps in the knowledge base by providing the first analysis combining ethnicity, care experience and involvement in youth justice.

Research finds that ethnic minority children are disproportionately likely to come into contact with the youth justice system through stops and searches, with black people nine times more likely to be stopped and searched than black people. Whites.

Ethnic minority children are also increasingly overrepresented in arrest figures. For example, black children (ages 10-17) represent approximately 4.4% of the general population, but accounted for 15.7% of arrests in 2018/19 (a 7.6% increase since 2008/2009) .

The experts surveyed overwhelmingly felt that the policing of black children and communities was excessive and driven by highly problematic racialized assumptions about the types of individuals who engage in criminal behavior.

Research suggests that minority people, particularly those who identify as black, were likely to receive harsher sentences than white people, although further research is needed to determine the precise nature of court interactions.

Official data has demonstrated that black children are more likely to be disciplined and to be punished more severely at all stages of the youth justice process.

Respondents said ethnic minority children, especially those who are black, must contend with racialized assumptions that permeate all aspects of the system. Research reveals that disproportionality is driven by two key processes, placement instability and institutional criminalization.

Placement stability is exacerbated for ethnic minority children in care for whom there is a shortage of placements with ethnic minority foster families.

This means that they tend to be housed in residential placements, where they are more likely to receive official sanction from youth justice than in other types of placements.

Interviewees feared the children’s homes had a “last resort” status among local authorities, with a former magistrate describing them as a “garbage dump”.

The lack of services in inner cities, which typically have larger ethnic minority populations, has a greater impact on ethnic minority children in care as they tend to be placed farther from home than their white counterparts.

Two interviewees described how black children could “stick out like a sore thumb” when housed in largely white working-class areas, in which their ethnicity and care status intersect to produce the “double whammy” described above.

There is evidence to suggest that children in care are subject to increased scrutiny and surveillance, which can lead to their criminalization.

Respondents gave numerous examples of carers, particularly staff at private children’s homes, calling the police for behavior that would not usually result in the involvement of juvenile justice.

One interviewee felt that calling the police to help manage the behavior was detrimental, as it put children on the “police radar”, which was a “slippery slope” towards formal court sanctions for youth, leading to labeling and stigmatization, leading to further criminalization.

Many interviewees also felt that children in care were disadvantaged in the youth justice system because they were not seen as having a “favorable” background.

Several interviewees insisted that a lack of advocacy could result in harsher penalties for children in care, particularly custodial sentences.

They believed that professionals perceived the lives of these children as “chaotic” and therefore tried to alleviate this by imposing structure.

Significant issues need to be addressed to reduce the overrepresentation of children in ethnic minority care in the juvenile justice system and in the secure area for minors. Both sets of children are subject to increased scrutiny and surveillance, which ultimately amounts to institutionalized criminalization.”

Dr Katie Hunter, Lancaster University Law School

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