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A group of leading charities, lawyers, care experienced children and young adults have worked together to produce a new guide for lawyers ‘Dare to Care’.

Care experienced children are up to six times more likely to be criminalised than other children. In 2022, 1% of children in England were in care, but 59% of children in custody in England and Wales had been in care.

It does not have to be this way.  Law and policy affecting care experienced children and young adults can be used to achieve fairer outcomes.  This guide will help lawyers prevent the unnecessary criminalisation of looked-after children and care leavers.

The guide will be a key resource for all lawyers working with children and young adults in the justice system. It provides powerful testimony from children and young adults, as well as the key legal framework and practical tips.

Laura Cooper, Director of Youth Justice Legal Centre (YJLC), which has published Dare to Care as part of its seminal series of youth justice guides said:

“It is incredibly unjust that care experienced children are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system when these are the very children we should be supporting. We are extremely proud to publish this comprehensive legal guide which we know will be a vital resource for practitioners in preventing the unnecessary criminalisation of care experienced children.”

Jordan Morgan, founder of the Policy Forum and Trustee of the Drive Forward Foundation, said: 

“To complement this vitally important guide, the Policy Forum is calling for the Justice Select Committee to urgently launch an inquiry into youth diversion schemes and their application to care experienced young people. We warmly welcome collaboration to achieve this aim and to support young people leaving the care system to live a full, dignified life where their aspirations can be met with opportunities.” 

Laurie Hunte, T2A Campaign Manager, said:

“For far too long, children and young adults with care experience have been vastly overrepresented in the criminal justice system. That’s why T2A and the Barrow Cadbury Trust are proud to support the publication of this much-needed guide for defence lawyers. Its ultimate aim is to ensure that every child and young adult is treated fairly and that their care experiences are considered and taken into account by criminal justice professionals. We have no doubt that this guide will play a crucial role in reducing the over-criminalisation of children and young adults with care experience.”

Kate Aubrey-Johnson, Director of CRYJ and barrister at Garden Court Chambers, said:

“Care experienced children and young adults deserve lawyers who understand their needs, the legal protections available and the reasons why they are so vulnerable to criminalisation. We are delighted to have worked with the Policy Forum at the Drive Forward Foundation. They are the most impressive group of young people who have, for the first time, explained to lawyers how to represent care experienced young people. Our hope is that this new legal guide will play a key part in addressing the shocking overrepresentation of care experienced children and young adults in the criminal justice system.”

The guide will be free to access online.  

Notes to editors

  1. Dare to Care: Representing care experienced young people written by Kate Aubrey-Johnson (barrister) and Dr Laura Janes (solicitor) in collaboration with the policy forum at the Drive Forward Foundation and is published by the Youth Justice Legal Centre.  Confidential advance copies are available to the press prior to the launch on request or it can be downloaded from 13 September 2023 at:
  1. Drive Forward Foundation supports care experienced young people into sustainable and fulfilling employment. The Policy Forum was founded by Jordan Morgan to promote legislative and policy change in the care system. Its members, who have lived experience of being needlessly criminalised, campaign on a number of issues, including mental health provision and education.   The forum worked with MOPAC to secure the creation of a London-wide protocol to reduce the criminalisation of looked-after children and care leavers.

Hello! My name is Niamh and I am currently working as a prison officer as part of the Unlocked Graduate’s scheme. As part of the scheme, I have been given the opportunity to come and complete a 2 week work placement with the Barrow Cadbury Trust. This is my first week and I am excited to be here!

I want to use my blog posts as an opportunity to get more prison officers involved in the reports and research that are being published about the criminal justice sector. While working as an officer, it has been important to me to inform my practice using the most up-to-date research being conducted about my place of work. This kind of research is available to everyone to see, but often it’s thought that the only people who need to see it are policy makers, or members of parliament. This is not true! In these papers is a wealth of knowledge that can inform the frontline workers who are coming into daily contact with the people the publications are aiming to help.

As a prison officer, I come into contact with so many different people, often with very different needs, and understanding why they have those needs can often be the answer for how best to help them. Looking at papers like how to prevent young adults being caught in the revolving door, coming in and out of contact with the criminal justice system again and again, I can see the men that I work with, in the middle of that cycle themselves.

Catching them before they come to prison is ideal, but I know that it is never too late to help them break the cycle of reoffending. Research into young people who are care experienced, and LGBTQ+ people, for example, is important as it recognises and highlights the impact of different environmental experiences, such as spending time in care, or being discriminated against because of your gender and/or sexuality. This can teach frontline workers, such as prison officers, about triggers, which will help them build trust, and inform them about what people need with respect to these vulnerabilities, whether it be building a connection with someone who has found it hard to access consistent support in the care system, or researching resources that will help a LGBTQ+ person get back on their feet when they are released from prison.

Sometimes, working in a prison can feel like you have a thousand and one jobs to do at once, and having to cater for individual needs seems like an unnecessary additional burden. While I understand that feeling, I also know that by understanding these individual needs, I can predict who needs what, and this helps me manage my time better, as well as building relationships with the men. This can be as big a thing as understanding how to help someone who has just experienced a bereavement, down to just wishing Eid Mubarak to the Muslim population who have just finished fasting for Ramadan. This is the kind of good practice that highlights the importance of frontline workers who want to see change in the men and women they’re working with.

Thank you very much for reading this blog. I hope you learned something from it, and I hope you read some of the reports I linked to – especially if you are another prison officer! Even though I work with male offenders, I think the reports are just as valuable wherever you work, whether it’s the male or female estate, young offenders or adults. I’ll be writing another blog next week, which I hope you will also enjoy. See you then!