Care Leavers Abandoned in the Criminal Justice System

The CLA  gave evidence to the Youth Justice Select Committee  on 6th November 2012 and highlighted the abandonment of young people from the care system who find themselves within the criminal justice system.

The significant majority of children and young people from care do not offend however figures demonstrate a disproportionate representation of care leavers in the criminal justice system.

  • Children in Care and Care Leavers account for less than 1% of the population
  • Over 25% of the adult prison population has previously been in care
  • 49% of young men under the age of 21 in the Criminal Justice System have spent time in care
  • 30% of young men in custody have spent time in care
  • 55% of girls in the 15-18 age group in custody have spent some time in local care

On publication of the Justice Committees Seventh Report of Session 2012–13, the Chair of the Committee, Sir Alan Beith MP, said:

“We were shocked by evidence we heard that vulnerable children across the UK are effectively being abandoned by children’s and social services.”

Through our evidence based work (3) with young people from the care system in custody and on community sentences we see clear abandonment of care leavers, particularly once in custody and in spite of the legislative imperatives that exist for this group of vulnerable young people.

Care leavers are not identified in any real way after 18 once they enter custody and can often have poor relationships with those charged with their care and the first time they know their young person is in custody is when they are released and they go and tell them because they now need help with housing, education, training, employment and all the other things one needs if one is to experience successful resettlement and any semblance of normality.


There is a lack of advocacy and support, alongside a gaping hole in knowledge within the Criminal Justice System of the issues facing care leavers or of the law that serves to protect these vulnerable young people. This is compounded by the disjointed approach taken to these young people as care leavers who pass through the criminal justice system

Young people in the care system, as the select committee report points out can be criminalised in the care system. A minor incident in a children’s home can be escalated to one of criminal behaviour in no time at all, with the child then being criminalised for life. If a child in a children’s home absconds, the police are called and they are brought home in a black maria or a police car. Relationships then become one of ‘Us & Them’ and the search for role models continues

We currently run two user led projects that are focused on care leavers and the criminal justice system. The first is a research based piece of work that addresses the link between care and offending amongst the 15 – 25 age group, again taking a user led model and seeking to identify gaps in service provision, advocating for young people where there is scope to do so and providing evidence based results that can inform policy. Coupled with this work is our FOUNDATIONS project, which is focused on mentoring; recruiting mentors who are ex-offenders that have been through the care system, training them and supporting them to support others through to the point of reducing their offending behaviour.