Summary of research: How we fail children who offend and what to do about it: ‘A breakdown across the whole system’

Report, Resources

How we fail children who offend and what to do about it: ‘A breakdown across the whole system’ –  Brief summary of research and updated recommendations

Publication date: August 2022

Authors: Professor Ian Lambie, Dr Jerome Reil, Judge Andrew Becroft and Dr Ruth Allen

This brief summary research follows on from a more comprehensive report published in March 2022. This research looks at risk and protective factors for children (under age 14 years) who offend in order to improve early identification and intervention efforts and protect such children from potentially lifelong criminality.

Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) data on 48,989 children (from their birth in 2000 until June 2019) showed factors associated with starting to offend as a child. Case files on all 108 children nationwide who had offended (under section 14(1)e) in one year (mid-2019 to mid-2020) cast light on these children’s lives. Key stakeholder interviews with whānau, lawyers and other professionals (n = 33) explored how the child welfare and Family Court systems could be improved.

This research clearly showed that, in the vast majority of cases, child offending was preceded by significant child welfare concerns. IDI data showed high levels of adversity and abuse, reports of concern to Oranga Tamariki, out-of-home placements and state care, stand-downs and suspensions from school, and indicators of cultural and social deprivation that were significantly worse relative to their non-offending peers.

Child welfare and child offending proceedings were full of missed opportunities to make a long-term difference, whether because of lack of resources, poor coordination across services, chronic delays in responding to need, poorly implemented plans, lack of culturally centred responses and poor engagement with families who had survived often intergenerational systemic failure and harm.

Changes can be made – there are fewer than 200 children who offend and at that scale it’s a solvable problem. Early intervention is critical, with a dedicated focus on the needs of these children and their families in both the Family Court and Oranga Tamariki, to help lift families out of poverty, trauma and abuse, help kids stay at school, out of state care, and connect them with the cultural and support resources needed to overcome challenges and to flourish.

The research was co-funded with the New Zealand Law Foundation and supported by the University of Auckland.