The case for early intervention: Child offending and Family Court practices

Offending by children under 13 is linked to lifelong crime. We must better understand and prevent it. 

About the project

Those who offend in childhood (under 13 years old) are significantly more likely to end up in adult prison than their peers. However, child offending has received little research attention or targeted intervention in Aotearoa New Zealand.  

Most children and young people who engage in serious offending have a history of child-welfare concerns (which are likely to underlie or contribute to their behaviour) and have had Oranga Tamariki and/or Family Court involvement.  

The Family Court is, however, limited in its ability to form a coherent and comprehensive picture of these children’s needs. It is therefore limited in its ability to make the best possible recommendations for ways to help them desist from crime.  

In this project, we will:

  • Analyse government data for all those aged 17 in 2017, to identify those with and without child-offending histories
  • Review case files of “high-risk” children who continue offending into adolescence
  • Consult with stakeholders, from judges and psychologists to children and whānau, to deepen the analysis
  • Outline offending types and severity, and risk and protective factors (individual, family, social and community), based on our findings, to guide intervention and prevention  
  • Provide recommendations for more effective Family Court and child-welfare actions, based on the project evidence.  

What happens at the first point of contact with the system is critical to support these children onto a more positive path, prevent future harm, and reduce crime and imprisonment. This project aims to inform and improve legal and child-welfare actions for children who offend or at risk of doing so.

“We must understand – and change – the pathways that lead from a child’s Family Court involvement to ultimately ending up in adult prison. This grant will help us find out what prevents child offending (or reoffending), what legal and child-welfare practices get in the way and what effective solutions are possible.”
– Associate Professor Ian Lambie, University of Auckland

Grant amount

$63,150 over 2019 and 2020. This project is co-funded with the New Zealand Law Foundation which is contributing the same amount.  

About Dr Ian Lambie

Dr Ian Lambie is Associate Professor in Clinical Psychology at the University of Auckland and Chief Science Advisor to the Justice Sector (Ministry of Justice, Police and Department of Corrections). He has 30 years’ experience working and researching in the youth-justice field, and especially enjoys supporting practical and evidence-based initiatives.  

Also involved is Judge Andrew Becroft, currently New Zealand’s Children’s Commissioner. He served as Principal Youth Court Judge for 12 years and previously as a youth advocate in Whanganui and South Auckland. He will bring a wealth of legal expertise and networks to the analysis and application of the research findings.  

Contact person

Dr Ian Lambie

Associate Professor, University of Auckland