The care system and education system are failing looked after young people. I write this blog post after attending a networking session about youth justice. It seems that society has gotten so muddled up in the possible causes of youth crime (e.g. whether it’s violent video games or explicit music) that we haven’t properly assessed or done our best to protect and best provide for those already within the young justice system. I believe all three systems are heavily intertwined but that looking at the youth justice system in particular, helps to highlight many faults in both the education and care system.
In a report that points out flaws in the care system and suggests possible reform, the think tank Policy Exchange suggest multiple reason why the system is failing. Among these reasons is the failure to prevent sexual exploitation within the system i.e. within foster families- this leaves young children in a vulnerable position. Lack of foster carers means that children may not often be matched with suitable families. For instance, children interviewed for the report also recall times they were not even adequately fed or provided with clothing. Read the article below:
-Believes her trouble began after leaving first foster home
-Had a baby at 16 (deliberately infected with AIDS by baby’s father.)
-Brother is in prison with 66 convictions.
Two things that struck me about the article above is a generational cycle within the care system and prison comfort. I’ll explain the latter first since, the term I just used is quite vague. It’s an unofficial theory of mine, but it seems that prison for some young people, provides something that their life outside of it does not. A stable turnover of staff and rigorous routine perhaps, as opposed to dangerous unpredictability and foster parents that come and go- making the bond that took so long to develop with them suddenly meaningless. If such is the case, it could explain why it isn’t an effective deterrent but also, why reoffending is so frequent amongst young offenders. Around two thirds of young offenders reoffend within 12 months of release (beyond youth cutody.net). The generational cycle was explained by a barrister at the event I attended. He talked about how six months ago he had represented a mother whose daughter was soon to be taken by authorities. Currently, he is representing that same daughter but for different reasons- her own daughter may be taken away from her also.
Education is thought to be the great equaliser. In theory, it should increase society’s social mobility by allowing one to escape the poor background they were born into and climb to another social class via a high income job. 53% of those in care leave school with no formal qualifications; this is often the start of a cycle leading to crime, imprisonment or unemployment. Sometimes, it may even be all three (Gentleman, 2009). This plays a part in keeping them trapped within a bigger cycle- the poverty cycle.
As correctly pointed out by Academic Mike Stein, many of these young people may be deeply damaged before they enter the care system. Before entering it they may have been exposed to domestic violence, carers with substance abuse issues or even experienced abuse of many forms themselves. This therefore makes it difficult to establish a cause and effect; however, although it may be the case that the care system doesn’t cause all the damage within young individuals, it does provide a suitable environment that may extend pre-existing damage.
I’m not a strong advocate of determinism. I do think that it is 100% possible to overcome your troubled past to become something better- Oprah Winfrey is one amongst many examples of this claim. There is no doubt, many with troubled pasts want to do this. Yet, it is made harder for some more than others because of things they often can’t control such as environment. How do you strive for better things when your lack of qualifications prevent you from getting the job needed to do so? What if in addition to this you’re criminal convictions deterred employers from hiring you? More is needed to integrate offenders back into society but to also treat any underlying habits or medical issues that may be directly linked to their criminal behaviour i.e. drink and drugs (Open Justice, 2016).
Serious reform is urgently needed. We need to remember that these aren’t just statistics but several troubled lives. Winston Churchill (when home secretary) once said that the progress of a nation can be measured in how it treats its criminals. We need to keep believing that there is potential in all to be beneficial to the community; it’s simply potential unseen or untapped- that’s all.