THE ALLIANCE FOR YOUTH JUSTICE (AYJ) has published the first of three policy briefings for its ‘Impact of Covid-19 on Youth Justice’ research project, delivered in collaboration with the Manchester Centre for Youth Studies at Manchester Metropolitan University. 

The briefing presents the significant risk of a surge in the number of children drawn into the youth justice system following the pandemic, highlighting a ‘perfect storm’ for children at risk, as a result of the exacerbation of children’s vulnerabilities, support services being under severe strain, and the complex and challenging policy context.

The briefing finds:

  • Exacerbated vulnerabilities and inequalities: the impact of Covid-19 on children is devastating, as not only have pre-existing vulnerabilities been exacerbated and safeguarding concerns heightened, but many more children and families are now exposed to new and increased challenges.

  • Access to support at risk as services under severe strain: the pressure on statutory and voluntary sector services as a result of Covid-19 should be seen in the context of systems already under severe strain, that were already struggling to meet children’s needs before the pandemic.

  • A complex and challenging policy context: the pandemic has exposed a lack of national strategy for children. A fragmented policy landscape creates a real danger that children will fall through the gaps, and punitive measures risk widening the net of children within the realm of enforcement and criminalisation.

AYJ says that strong leadership and co-ordinated action is required to address the impacts of the pandemic and prevent an influx of children into the youth justice system. It calls for vulnerable children to be at the heart of policy and practice, and concerted efforts to maximise diversion of children to positive pathways outside of the justice system. It makes a number of recommendations for policymakers and commissioners, including

  • A Cabinet-level Minister for Children to be appointed to work across government departments to create and provide oversight and accountability for a national strategy for children
  • Maximum diversion from the formal youth justice system, with the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility to be increased from 10 to at least 14, in line with UN recommendations
  • The forthcoming SEND review to consider and seek to address the disproportionate representation of children with SEND who end up in the youth justice system.
  • The forthcoming update to school exclusions statutory guidance to set out links between exclusion, criminalisation and exploitation.

* Read A perfect storm for children at risk? Preventing a post-pandemic surge in the criminalisation of children here.

* More information on the ‘Impact of Covid-19 on Youth Justice’ research project here.

* Source: Alliance for Youth Justice