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The Evaluation of Children's Hearings in Scotland: Volume 3 - Children in Focus

Chapter FIVE

Children and young people who offend

This chapter provides first an examination of 465 cohort children who were referred for offending during the survey period in the first 2 weeks of February (at February 1995); and second it considers cohort children dealt with by the adult criminal justice system by February 1997. The final section examines a group of young people reported jointly to the Children's Hearings system and to the adult criminal justice system, some of whom were dealt with by each system.

Four hundred and sixty-five cohort children (40%) were referred to the Reporter for offence reasons during the survey period; these included fresh referrals (422), references and remits (15), cases copied from Fiscals (11) and reviews accompanied by fresh offence referrals (17). Many of the cohort cases referred for review may have related to offences, but were not included.

The vast majority of the children were boys (401 or 86%). Criminology research generally finds that boys offend more frequently and more seriously than girls (Farrington, 1992). Why this is so remains unclear. Four hundred and twelve (88%) of cohort children referred for offending were aged between 12 and 15 years, and 68% or 316 of the children were 14 or 15 years. Only a small proportion (2%) was 16 years or over at the time of referral. This is likely to be an indication of the sharp cut-off within the system at age 16. It reflects the particular characteristics of the legislation for the Children's Hearings system - the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 defines children for the purpose of new referrals for offending as those under the age of 16.

As for the whole cohort, police were the main source of referral with 80% (374) of children referred for offending at 1 February 1995 having at least one referral to the Reporter by police. A very small number (5% or 25 children) had been referred at least 6 times by the police. A small percentage of referrals (5% or 21) came from Procurators Fiscal and education sources accounted for 7% (32) of referrals. Only a relatively small number of referrals came from social work departments (3%, 13), or from parents (1) and other sources in the community (2%, 9). There was little evidence to suggest that the wider public referred children who offend in their community directly to the Reporter.

Children referred for offending: comparison with the whole cohort

The philosophy behind the Children's Hearings system is predicated on the assumption that any differences between children who offend and children referred for other reasons are likely to be outweighed by the similarities in their social circumstances - this is the rationale for an integrated approach to addressing the children's difficulties. There is much here to support this general contention. It is already clear from this report that the vast majority of cohort children referred to the Reporter in February 1995 were living in relatively poor economic and social circumstances. The social circumstances of the 465 children referred for offences were broadly similar to the cohort sample as a whole, although in some instances slightly more favourable. In most instances the percentage differences are small. Table 5.1 provides a summary of the social circumstances of children referred for offending compared to the whole cohort sample.

Table 5.1
Summary of Reporters' concerns at 1 February 1995

Concerns

Children referred for offending (n=465)

Whole Cohort Sample (n=1,094)

offending

64%

32%

truancy

22%

24%

behavioural/emotional difficulties

28%

22%

child's drug/alcohol misuse

12%

7%

psychiatric difficulties

9%

6%

parent-child relationship problems

24%

22%

The Reporters' main concern for children in this study was over their offending - in 64% (299) of cases, compared to 32% for the cohort sample as a whole. Twenty-eight per cent of the children (131) were considered to have behavioural or emotional difficulties, 12% (54) a drug or alcohol problem, and 9% a psychiatric problem - higher than for the cohort as a whole. Twenty-two per cent of the children (103) were considered to have a truancy problem that was a source of concern, slightly less than for the cohort as a whole. The concern over truancy for a high number of children contrasted with the relatively low level of referrals directly for truancy.

The families

Children and young people living with both natural parents have been found to be less likely to offend than those living with one parent or in a step family (Graham and Bowling, 1995). Loeber and Stouthamer-Loeber (1986), in their comprehensive review of family factors as predictors of juvenile offending, found that poor parental supervision and monitoring, harsh discipline, parental conflict, and parental rejection were important predictors of offending. Other factors, for example, broken homes and early separations (both permanent and temporary) and criminality in the family also predict delinquency.

A substantial group of children referred for offending were in lone-parent households (42%, 181) with one birth parent, mainly a birth mother (147, 34%). This is less than for the whole cohort, where 47% were in a lone-parent family (see Table 5.2 below); 39% (166) of the children were living in a nuclear family with 2 birth parents, compared with 29% for the cohort as a whole. Fourteen per cent (61) of cohort children referred for offending were reported to be living in reconstituted families, less than for the cohort as a whole, where 17% of children were part of a reconstituted family.

Table 5.2
Summary of households at 1 February 1995

Children referred for offending (n=430)

Whole Cohort

(n=1,094)

lone parent

42%

46%

nuclear family

39%

29%

reconstituted

14%

17%

state benefit

48%

55%

As for the whole cohort, a range of positives were identified in the children's lives by Reporters (see Chapter 2); only 40 (9%) were identified as having adequate or good childcare.

Parental support from at least one parent was seen as an important positive factor in the lives of half of these children, similar to the cohort as a whole. Relationships with parents were characterised as steady (58%) or warm (44%) for most, but unstable for 32% of cohort children referred for offending. It is an explicit aim of the Children's Hearings system, as far as is possible, to maintain children at home or in the community with a natural family. This aim seemed to be largely achieved for most children in the cohort sample and for children referred for offending, in that most seemed to be living in the community with at least one birth parent.

As with all cohort children known to the Reporter at 1 February 1995, the majority of those referred for offending (69%, n=465) were from families living in local authority accommodation, a figure which included 4 children who were in local authority temporary accommodation (see Table 5.3 below). This compared with 72% for the whole cohort. A small number of children were from families who were owner-occupiers (6%, 29), similar to the whole cohort. Only one child was from a family reported as homeless.

Table 5.3
Housing at 1 February 1995

Children referred for offending (n=465)

Whole cohort
(n=1,094)

Local Authority tenancy

69%

72%

Owner-occupier

6%

5%

Deprived housing area

33%

38%

Thirty-three per cent (n=465) of children referred for offending were reported to be living in a deprived housing area (see Table 5.3 above), compared to 38% for the cohort as a whole. Only 49 (11%) were reported as living in an inner city area and 42 (9%) in a rural area. This may reflect the sampling method or suggest that most children who come to the attention of Reporters for offending come from the large peripheral estates in the central belt of Scotland.

As with all cohort children known to the Reporter at 1 February 1995, the largest group of cohort children referred for offending (48%, Table 5.2 above) were from households dependent on state benefit - this compared with 55% for the whole cohort. Overall 32% (147, n=465) of cohort children referred for offending had father figures (including birth, step, adoptive and male guardians) who were in employment, and 142 (31%) had mother figures who were employed. Employment levels for parents did not seem high. Only 66 (14%) children were from households where both parents were reported to be waged, a figure inevitably limited by the fact that only 39% (166, n=430) of children were reported as living in a nuclear family with both birth parents present.

Reporters were unable to comment on the family income of 83 (18%) children. Nevertheless, it was apparent that many cohort children referred for offending were growing up in personal circumstances of discontinuity and disruption in family relationships, and in adverse social and economic circumstances.

Schooling

Poor school performance, academic failure and being seen as 'troublesome' in school, particularly in children aged 8 to 10, are associated with delinquent activity. Graham and Bowling (1995) found that girls who reported disliking school and boys who reported regular truanting or school exclusion were more likely to offend than were others.

Only 27 of cohort children referred for offending at 1 February 1995 were reported as not enrolled in school. These were all aged 16 or over. Forty children were attending residential school, 37 specialist educational provision, and 9 were in secure accommodation. Fifty-four cohort children referred for offending were reported as having been excluded from school at some time, the reasons in the main being behavioural difficulties and aggression.

Little information was available on the pattern of school attendance for most of the cohort children, including those referred for offending. Reporters knew more, however, about the peer relationships of the children, a factor which has been found to be an independent predictor of future offending (West, 1982). Only 26% (119) of cohort children referred for offending were reported as having good relations with peers at school and 31 children described as popular at school; 35 were described as isolated, with 38% described as either aggressive (88 children) or mixing with troublesome peers (90 children).

Reporters indicated that most of the children (303) referred for offending were unenthusiastic about their schooling, and that nearly three-quarters (250, n=343) had an unsatisfactory attitude towards school. Similarly co-operativeness at school was reported for only about a quarter (117) of the children. The majority (226) had difficulties with teachers, 100 were described as antagonistic, 50 as aggressive and 32 as uncommunicative. In their general attitude to school, the children were likely to be described by Reporters as disruptive (150), or unpredictable and lacking in motivation (101). At the same time Reporters considered that for three-quarters of the cohort children referred for offending (260, n=333), parental attitude to school was unsatisfactory.

These findings taken collectively point to an educational experience that is not likely to bring out the best in children and young people.

The nature of offending

While offending once or twice is common - almost half of young men admit to having done so (Audit Commission, 1996) - a few persistent offenders are thought to commit most of the crimes by young people (Graham and Bowling, 1995). Most offences are property related. Those who persistently engage in offending, such as taking cars, are not disproportionately engaged in the most serious and violent crimes. Only a small number of young people commit the most serious types of crime.

The main offences for which most of the cohort children and young people (over 50%) were referred at 1 February 1995 were property related. Offences included theft (OLP) - 106 children; breach of the peace - 105 children; vandalism - 50 children; theft by shoplifting - 24 children; theft from motor vehicles - 17 children; housebreaking - 20 children; road traffic offences - 15 children; assault - 67 children; robbery - 9 children; and drug offences - 5 children. These offences reflect the nature of offending commonly reported in studies of offenders aged 16 years and under (Hagell and Newburn, 1994). Reporters indicated that 116 children (24%), nearly all boys (101), had been involved in violent crimes at some time prior to their referral at 1 February 1995.

The picture in the main is of cohort children reported for offending relatively infrequently, with 46% (213) of them alleged to have committed 2 or more previous offences (most of these non-violent). There were, however, a small proportion who offended more often and more seriously; 8% (36) were reported to have committed more than 10 offences and just over 4% of the children were alleged to have committed more than a quarter (25.8%) of all alleged offences reported for the whole group. These children especially warrant attention.

Criminality in the family is a well-recognised predictor of offending, strongly associated with criminality among children. Where responses were provided on known criminal history, 29 (19%, n=150) children were reported as having a male carer who had been involved in criminal activity and 14 a female carer (7%, n=188). Twenty (4%) children were reported as having siblings known to be involved in criminal activity, and 124 children had siblings involved in the Children's Hearings system.

Prior history in the Children's Hearings system

Like so many of the cohort children in general, many of these children already had a history of involvement with the Children's Hearings system, suggesting concerns of a more long-standing nature. Seventy-four per cent (342) had been referred to the Reporter for offending some time prior to 1 February 1995, 75% of the boys (301) and 64% of the girls (41). The children had attracted an average of 10.9 referrals each before 1 February 1995, and, on average, they were first referred at 10.2 years of age, reasonably young but not as young as the majority of cohort children at 1 February 1995. Just under a third had at least one experience of living in care away from home.

Most importantly, these children had already experienced a range of social adversity prior to February 1995, as is shown in the wide variation in grounds for referral found by retrospective analysis. Prior to 1 February 1995, all other referral grounds, in addition to offence grounds, were represented in referrals for children who were referred at 1 February for offending. In particular, 30% (104, n=342) were referred for reasons of being beyond parental control (ground A) and 30% (101) for reasons of truancy (ground F) - factors strongly associated with later offending behaviour. Furthermore, 30% (102) of children had come to the attention of the Reporter prior to February 1995 for reasons of being at some risk associated with offences against children (grounds D and DD).

Thirty-two per cent (n=342) had been referred on a voluntary basis for social work assistance at some time prior to February 1995. Many of the cohort children referred for offending had subsequently been considered in need of compulsory measures of care; 57% (n=342) had a supervision requirement imposed prior to February 1995.

While the mean and modal average age of the 465 cohort children referred for offending at February 1995 was 14 to 15 years, close to the peak age for offending, most children had come to the attention of the system much younger. This was either for offending and associated social difficulties or for other social difficulties of their own.

Outcomes following referral in February 1995

The Children's Hearings system is intended to divert children from the formal processes of criminal procedures. There are provisions to divert children from any formal procedures within the system itself and to operate a non-interventionist approach, where this is judged to be in the best interests of the child.

Despite their experience of multiple difficulties and previous contact with the system for offending, most of the children (54% or 251) referred for offending had no formal action taken as a result of the referral in February 1995. 1 Where the Reporter had full discretion to decide on the course of action to be taken, nearly 58% of the cohort children referred for offending were subject to no action. Reporters indicated they intended, mainly, to write to the child's parents or carers. In 14 cases only did they foresee meeting with the parents or carers directly.

Thirty-seven per cent of children (173) thereafter appeared before a hearing as a result of their referral in February 1995. Nearly 78% of those 16 and over appeared before a hearing. This reflected the fact that most of the non-discretionary hearings in this sample involved this age group.

Martin et al (1981) suggested, in the light of earlier studies, that discretionary decision making appeared to be influenced by the number of previous offence referrals, particularly for boys. While the numbers in our sample were small and require to be treated with some caution when drawing conclusions, the data suggested that the rate of appearance before a hearing increased with the number of previous offence referrals; the inverse seemed to be true for the rate of no-action decisions.

Of the 37% (173, n=465) cohort children referred for offending who appeared before a hearing, most (77%, 133) were considered to be in need of compulsory measures and were made subject to a supervision requirement. This compared with 56% for the cohort as a whole.

Two hundred and thirty-one (49%, n=465) of the children were referred to the Reporter between January and December 1996 - 50% of the boys (201), and 47% of the girls (30), attracted on average 4.4 referrals. Given that the modal age in February 1995 was 15 years, many of the children who left the system were likely to be accounted for by age. Referrals were of a varied nature and indicated a range of continuing concerns about these children. Nevertheless, the focus of formal attention was increasingly on the children's offending - 119 (52%, n=231) were still on supervision at the end of 1996, and 11 had been placed in secure accommodation.

COHORT CHILDREN APPEARING IN THE CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

The study was designed to track all cohort children, whatever the reason for their referral in February 1995, into the adult criminal justice system. Six hundred and seven cohort children known to the Reporter at 1 February 1995 reached the age of 16 by 1 February 1997. Linking these cohort children across the 2 systems was complicated and created methodological problems. Each child had different unique reference identifiers in the Children's Hearings system and Scottish Criminal Records Office (SCRO). It was only possible to identify 256 (42%) children for the purpose of analysis, for whom SCRO 2 produced information on 175 children. It is reasonable to assume the remaining 81 had no adult record established and had not been subject to supervision in the Children's Hearings system for offence-related reasons.

Of the 175 cohort children for whom SCRO records existed, 26% (45) had not appeared before or been convicted by an adult criminal court; their record related only to having been placed under supervision within the Children's Hearings system for offence reasons. The remainder and majority (130 young people) had a conviction before an adult criminal court by 1 February 1997; 89 were children who had been referred for offending at 1 February 1995. They had been dealt with by a District court (55), Stipendiary Magistrate (6), a Sheriff summary court (89), indictment in a Sheriff court (17) or before the High Court (1).

The following observations relate to the 130 cohort children with a conviction before an adult criminal court by 1 February 1997. Of these young people, just over half were reported to be from lone-parent families at February 1995 (53% compared to 42% for the group referred for offending); to be living on state benefit (58% compared to 48% for the group referred for offending); and to be living in public care (34%, 44 children) at the time of referral in 1995. Concern over alcohol (28%), drug abuse (19%), and psychiatric difficulties (11%) had been expressed about a number of these young people at referral in February 1995. The vast majority (96 out of 130 children) had had previous referrals for offending, and 65% (85) had appeared before a hearing as a result of their referral in February 1995.

Thirty-six of the young people with a recorded conviction (28%, n=130) had had at least one period of detention; 43 (33%) had been subject to a community disposal involving social work; and 61 (47%) had been fined. Thirty per cent (n=130) had appeared in an adult criminal court before their last recorded supervision termination date in the Children's

Hearings and 85 (65%) had had a supervision requirement terminated between 1 February 1995 and 1 February 1997. Most were over 16 and many were over 17 when supervision was last terminated; the average age of last recorded supervision termination was 16 years 6 months. This would seem to suggest that the Children's Hearings system used its legal powers to deal with young people aged 16 and 17 who were at high risk of further offending and of appearing in the adult courts. Few were maintained up to the maximum permissible age within the terms of the legislative powers.

Cohort children receiving custodial sentences

Thirty-six (28%, n=130) of the cohort children, 35 males and one female, convicted before an adult criminal court, were sentenced to custodial detention at least once by 1 February 1997. Eighteen of them had been sentenced to custodial detention on more than one occasion by the same date. Just less than half (15) had been placed on a community disposal involving social work before being sentenced to detention, while 21 had been fined. First recorded custodial detentions were imposed mainly by Sheriff summary courts (78%, n=36); one by the Stipendiary Magistrate's court in Glasgow and one by a District court. Six were convicted on indictment and sentenced to custody by Sheriff courts. All were convicted for the offence that resulted in their first custodial detention while they were under the age of 18.

Thirty-four (94%, n=36) of the young people who received custody had been subject to a supervision requirement in the Children's Hearings system between 1 February 1995 and 1 February 1997. Twenty-nine (81%) had appeared in the adult court for the offence which resulted in custody before or at the time they were discharged from supervision (11) or within 6 months of discharge from supervision (18), suggesting the issues of offending remained unresolved on discharge from that system.

Using The Scottish Office Statistical Bulletin classification, 20 (56%, n=36) cohort children were sentenced to detention for offences of dishonesty, 7 for miscellaneous offences, 5 for non-sexually violent offences and 3 for other crimes. The non-sexually violent offences consisted of robbery and serious assault (3) and handling an offensive weapon (2); the offences of dishonesty consisted of theft or attempted theft of a motor vehicle (7), theft by housebreaking and opening lockfast premises (5), shoplifting and other theft (8). Five of the miscellaneous offences consisted of simple assault.

JOINTLY REPORTED CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE

Children can be reported by the police 'jointly' to the Reporter and to the Procurator Fiscal before a decision is made to determine whether the young person is dealt with by the Hearings system or by the Procurator Fiscal in the adult criminal system. In addition to jointly referred cases, in some instances Procurators Fiscal will refer ('copy') cases to Reporters. The arrangements for liaison seem to vary across the country and rates of 'retention' of cases by Procurators Fiscal seem to vary similarly (Hallett et al, 1998). In the case of young people under the age of 18, Scottish criminal legislation makes provision for courts, in certain circumstances, to refer a young person to the Children's Hearings system for advice before disposal, or to remit the case for disposal. National data suggests that the use of these provisions is limited for young people aged 16 and 17 years.

Few of the cohort children had a joint involvement with the Children's Hearings system and the criminal justice system. For those who did, little data was generated from Reporters' questionnaires at 1 February 1995. An associated study was initiated in January 1997 to supplement data collected on the main cohort study and to consider children at the interface between the Children's Hearings system and the adult criminal justice system.

The associated study involved gathering information from additional record sources on 113 children and young people jointly referred at 1 February 1995; 59 were dealt with by Reporters (JRR) in the Children's Hearings system and 54 were dealt with by Procurators Fiscal (JRPF) in the adult criminal justice system. The JRPF young people were not recorded as Reporter cases during the survey at 1 February 1995 and, unlike JRR children, were not part of the cohort sample. Because of the varied sources of data, many of which were incomplete, totals (n=) vary throughout the discussion (see Annex 5 for details of design and methodological issues).

These jointly reported children and young people (101 males and 12 females) were aged 13 to 17 when referred at 1 February 1995. Most (66%, 74) were aged 15 and 16. They had an extensive and ongoing history in the Children's Hearings system. Most were recorded as living in the community when they were jointly reported at 1 February 1995; however, 21 were living in a residential/institutional setting, 3 in a young offender's institution. None of the referrals was a first referral for offending at the time of the survey and only 19 children had not been subject to supervision at some time in their life. The average age of first referral to the system was 13 years, although 13% (15 children) had been first referred to the Reporter under the age of 8. While most (64%) first referrals were for offending, over a third of first referrals were on other care grounds, indicating a wide range of concerns in addition to their offending behaviour.

Most children (83%, 94) had been subject to supervision at some time prior to February 1995; 57% (64) were subject to supervision when referred at 1 February 1995 including 19 of the 59 subsequently dealt with by the Procurator Fiscal. The age when supervision was first terminated indicated that many had entered the system early in childhood and were subject to discharge only to return later; most, however, on entering the system seemed to remain within it and had their supervision terminated between the ages of 15 and 17.

Socio-economic characteristics

Jointly reported children and young people had many similar socio-economic characteristics to the 465 cohort children referred for offending at 1 February 1995 and to the cohort as a whole, showing somewhat greater social adversity when compared for family disruption, admission to public care, financial hardship and other problems. Table 5.4 below provides a summary of the social characteristics of the jointly reported as a whole, compared to those children referred for offending and to the cohort as a whole.

Table 5.4
Summary of Socio-economic Characteristics

Social Characteristic

Jointly reported

Children referred for offending

Whole cohort

Lone-parent household

49%

42%

46%

Nuclear family

24%

39%

29%

LA tenancy

89%

69%

74%

Owner-occupier

5%

6%

5%

State Benefit

64%

55%

48%

Looked after away from home

46%

30%

34%

Drug/alcohol difficulties

18%

12%

7%

Psychiatric difficulties

20%

9%

6%

Thirty-nine (49%, n=79) of the children's families in February 1995 were described as lone parent families, while 24% (19, n=79) were from a 2-parent family; and 27% (21) were part of a reconstituted family. Fifty-eight (89%, n=65) children and young people's families were reported living in permanent local authority accommodation; 3 (5%) in privately rented accommodation and 3 owned their own home; another was living temporarily with a relative.

Most families were recorded as experiencing moderate to severe financial difficulties and nearly two-thirds of the families (46, n=72) were reported as dependent on state benefits for their income in February 1995. Thirty-nine (49%, n=79) of the jointly reported children and young people had been looked after away from home at some time in their life.

Limited information was reported on the health of these children or the health of their parents/carers. However, 16 parent/carers were reported as having alcohol problems and alcohol or drugs were considered to be seriously affecting the lives of 14 young people (18%, n=79); 20% of the children and young people were considered to have some kind of psychiatric problem at February 1995. Similarly little was recorded about parent/carer attitudes towards offending, although 19 children and young people (24%, n=79) were recorded as having a parent/carer known to be involved in criminal activity.

Records indicated that 32 children and young people (71%, n=45) were considered to be disruptive and disinterested in school, and have poor attendance prior to 1 February 1995; 4 were reported as having behaviour problems as early as Primary 1 and 2. Those young people with poor school attendance and disruptive behaviour in class were likely to have been excluded from school at least once. Three-quarters of the jointly reported young people dealt with by the Procurator Fiscal, who had left school (26, n=40), were unemployed (19) and reliant on state benefit for income.

Outcomes for jointly reported children and young people

Jointly reported young people had 1,870 offences recorded against them in SCRO records by February 1997. Most offences were of a non-violent nature, with a smaller number of very serious offences.

Procurators Fiscal were able to provide only limited data on the jointly reported young people they dealt with in February 1995. Their main source of information was reported as coming from the police. Only in 3 cases did they indicate they had written reports from Reporters or sources other than from the police. Most reported that their decisions were based mainly on the nature and seriousness of the alleged offence(s). In 65% of the cases they were unaware of any difficulties in the young person's background.

Charges against 12 young people dealt with by Procurators Fiscal were not pursued; 7 were dealt with by alternatives to prosecution; and a further 5 were referred to the Reporter. Twenty-nine of the young people (64%, n=48) were prosecuted before the adult court as a result of their referral at 1 February 1995.

In the adult criminal court one offence may have more than one outcome or court disposal and sometimes several offences are taken together (' in cumulo') to produce a single disposal. In 6 instances one offence led to more than one outcome for the young person and in 10 instances several offences were taken together to produce one outcome from more than one offence. Consequently the numbers in the analyses do not always add up. The Scottish Office Statistical Bulletin tackles this problem by identifying one offence as the main offence and giving the main outcome, even although sometimes that outcome may have been the result of taking together several offences (' in cumulo').

Five of the young people brought to court were subsequently sentenced to detention, for offences including serious assault and robbery (1), motor vehicle theft (3), and theft by housebreaking (1); all had numerous bail offences. Eight young people were fined as a result of their appearance in court; 11 were made subject to a social work community disposal. Of those fined, one was still at school, one was on a training scheme and 6 were unemployed. All may have faced some difficulty in paying a fine, placing them at future risk of detention. In contrast, 35 jointly reported cohort children dealt with by Reporters (59%, n=59) were referred to a hearing; 24 were made subject to (or continued on) supervision, 6 in residential placements.

Jointly reported young people and the criminal courts

Most jointly reported children and young people had 'graduated' to the adult criminal system by February 1997. Eighty-nine (n=113) had at least one conviction recorded by February 1997; most had been convicted of at least 6 offences. Offences consisted mainly of 'dishonesty' (35%), although motor vehicle offences (17%) and 'other crimes' (19%), which included drug offences, represented a substantial proportion of the 1,870 recorded offences. Non-sexual crimes of violence represented 4%. Most offences were dealt with in the summary courts. Eighty-one young people had appeared before a Sheriff summary court; 41 before a District court; 3 young people had appeared before the High Court and 2 before a Sheriff court under solemn procedures (more than one appearance per young person).

Sixty-two per cent (n=89) had been fined or required to pay compensation by February 1997; fines ranged from £30 to £100 and compensation from £32 to £300. Given their financial circumstances, many might have been at high risk of default. Fifty-seven per cent had been made subject to a community disposal (probation or community service) involving some kind of social work supervision. Twelve had been referred to a hearing for advice by the court under existing statutory requirements.

Thirty-one of the young people (31% (n=35) dealt with by the Children's Hearings system in February 1995 and 37% (n=54) of those dealt with by Procurators Fiscal) had experience of custody by February 1997. There was some evidence to suggest that for many their criminality had resulted in a pattern of repeat custody - 62 sentences of custody were recorded - likely to be associated with consolidating their criminal careers. Most custodies were imposed by Sheriff summary courts. Between half and three-quarters of court appearances resulting in first custody were around the time of, or shortly after, termination of supervision; the mean age was 16 years 10 months.

Custody often occurred after other disposals, particularly community-based disposals, had been imposed. The criminal justice system in Scotland does not allow for all outstanding offences to be 'taken into account' at a single court hearing. Many young people, therefore, appeared on numerous occasions in court for various offences. For those seriously persistent in offending, the courts seemed, quickly, to exhaust the range of disposals open to them. Consequently a substantial proportion of young people found themselves in custody relatively soon after leaving the Children's Hearings system. It is possible that many young people found themselves sentenced to custody for persistence, as much as for the seriousness of their offending.

Two-thirds of the young people appeared in the court resulting in custody around the time of or shortly before termination of supervision from the Children's Hearings system. Seven young people were under 16 when they first appeared in court for the offence that resulted in their first custody; 10 were aged 16 to 17; and 14 were over 17. The ages at last recorded supervision termination of jointly reported children and young people suggested that the Children's Hearings system maintained its involvement with young people aged 16 and 17 years who were persistent in offending. Nevertheless, many 'graduated' to the adult court before the age of 18.

Caution is required in interpreting the data on jointly reported children and young people. Nonetheless, in line with many other recent studies and reviews (Hagell and Newburn, 1994, Farrington, 1996, Audit Commission, 1996), the data suggested a common feature in young people between the ages of 15 and 18 persistently involved in criminal behaviour. Their behaviour had as much to do with their social adversity and their history of care as the distinctive and serious nature of their criminality. Given the similarities between the JRR cohort children and the JRPF young people, the data provided few clues as to the criteria applied when decisions were made to prosecute some young people in the public interest, while others were dealt with in the non-criminal Children's Hearings system. The key factors in determining whether jointly referred young people were maintained in the non-criminal Hearings system seemed less to do with the social characteristics of the young people, their maturity or the risk they presented to the public. It had more to do with the persistent nature of their criminality and, possibly, more to do with their age. The category 'jointly reported' may be a good predictor of high risk of future custody and provide a means of identifying young people who are amongst the most vulnerable in terms of their social characteristics and criminality.

INTERFACE OF THE CHILDREN'S HEARINGs AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM

Information from social work records (see Annex 5) on 34 jointly reported young people provided some additional qualitative information which highlighted a number of issues at the interface between the criminal justice and Children's Hearings systems. This is summarised below.

The most common reasons found in social work records for a recommendation to terminate a supervision requirement in the Children's Hearings system for the jointly reported young people were negative ones, including lack of co-operation, failing to keep appointments, avoiding contact with the supervising social worker, or not accepting advice. Reports which recommended termination of supervision specifically noted that there was little likelihood of any change in the behaviour of the young person: ". . . his long term involvement in the Panel System appears to have had limited effect on his overall behaviour pattern and attitude toward offending".

Only in the records of 2 cases was it noted that supervision was terminated for positive reasons. Records indicated that both young people were provided with structured programmes by the social work department. They co-operated well with the social workers involved. In advocating the termination of the supervision requirement, the social workers indicated that these young men had desisted from offending behaviour, had addressed the issues surrounding their offending behaviour and had been able to set out plans for the future. Both were noted as having good support from their families. This process reflects the potential within the policy and legislative provisions to provide structured programmes with positive outcomes, ensuring that when young people are discharged plans for the future are in place.

Freedom and responsibility

Records indicated that some young people had wanted to move on from social work supervision and begin to exercise their freedom as young adults. While encouragement and approval for young people who want to exercise new found freedoms may be important, it was difficult to find a basis for optimism within social work records, given the social adversity and criminality of the young people. It was noticeable that only in the cases of the 2 young people whose supervision order was terminated for positive reasons was there any recorded evidence of young people co-operating with their social workers to set out a life plan for the 2 years following the proposed termination.

In many cases the young person was viewed as in need of greater controls placed on them and the adult system seen as a more appropriate way of dealing with their difficulties: "[the young person] . . . may take more responsibility for bringing about longer lasting changes in attitude and behaviour if faced with Court sanctions"; " . . . the Children's Hearings system cannot provide the structure and control needed".

It was not possible to establish whether these views reflected a pragmatic belief that the young person had a better chance of getting an effective social work service because of the funding arrangements in the adult system, or reflected a belief that the adult system was likely, in itself, to be a more effective way of dealing with persistent young offenders. For some jointly reported young people, records indicated that the social worker thought they should "face up to the real world" and "accept the consequences of their offending" by being dealt with by the adult criminal court. "He has outgrown the child care system . . . the time has come for [him] to take responsibility for his own behaviour and actions". In addition: ". . . being on supervision was probably holding him back from making him fully responsible for his actions and behaviour and the decision was therefore taken to terminate it". Implicit in some of the records was an assumption that assisting young people face responsibility for their actions is not the task of the Children's Hearings system.

Age and maturity

The very term, Children's Hearings, may reflect an ethos within the system that is unhelpful when dealing with young people approaching 16 (Save the Children, 1992). The debate about age, maturity and criminal responsibility is a complex one that taxes all jurisdictions (see UNICEF's Beijing rules and Riyadh guidelines on juvenile justice). The Kilbrandon Report referred to the proposed system for Scotland as Juvenile (and not Children's) panels (para. 82ff.) and suggested,

"that wherever drawn, the dividing line will to some extent be an arbitrary one, and indeed argument can be advanced for adopting any one of a variety of ages short of the age of 21." (para. 118)

The Scottish system was designed to deal with young people beyond the age of 16 and the evidence from jointly reported young people showed that many were retained within the system beyond the age of 16. There were dilemmas for decision makers in weighing up and responding to issues of vulnerability and maturity as outlined in policy statements (see Scottish Office, 1993 para 7.29), and in determining the extent to which a young person should be deemed in need of help and support: ". . . it is extremely difficult to envisage what benefit continued social work support in the form of supervision could be . . . [the young person] does clearly know the difference between lawful and unlawful behaviour and the consequences for himself and his family of choosing to break the law ".

Even where, in the view of the social worker, there was some indication that young people were beginning to take control of their lives, it was suggested that some were overwhelmed by their experience in the adult procedure. Many were described as having great difficulty keeping track of which offences were still to be dealt with and which court was to deal with them: records suggested they seemed often to have limited understanding of the likely consequence of failing to attend.

Effective intervention

There was little evidence in records to indicate the nature or quality of help that had been on offer to jointly reported young people and their families. Consequently it was not possible to comment on the appropriateness or effectiveness of previous intervention.

Some records expressed doubts about the ability of childcare social workers to provide suitable and effective intervention within the Children's Hearings system for young people persistent in criminal behaviour and for this reason indicated that the young person should be dealt with in the criminal justice system. Often, as in the case of 10 young people, the social workers felt there was "nothing more that the Children's Hearings system" could do. Few records contained clear information on the provision that had been made to assist the young person or what help the social workers expected the adult criminal system to provide, if supervision was terminated. There were suggestions that to address offending behaviour may be viewed by some childcare social workers as a task for the criminal system rather than the childcare system: "In my assessment a continued supervision requirement would not be appropriate in addressing his offending behaviour".

There was little evidence from records to suggest that services or their effectiveness were monitored and evaluated for individual young people. Records and reports occasionally mentioned that a young person was to attend a programme, for example, Intermediate Treatment. No record was kept to indicate, however, whether the young person actually attended or how frequently; what help was offered; nor any evaluation of what was achieved.

Respondents' views of findings

Caution is necessary in interpreting the data on jointly reported young people. Any conclusions that can be drawn have to be tentative in nature, given the limitations of the data. Two Procurators Fiscal and 2 Reporters were interviewed as respondents, to establish their views on the findings and whether or not they considered the observations as more or less typical of their experience in the respective systems. All 4 respondents expressed the view that these findings seemed consistent with their experience. "I found [the report] to be fairly accurate of my experience in dealing with jointly reported children" [PF].

All agreed that children under the age of 16 would, in principle, be dealt with by the Children's Hearings system unless the offence merited otherwise. In practice there seemed to be a 'grey area' when children were within months of their 16th birthday, where it was expected that Fiscals would seek the advice of Reporters. The Procurators Fiscal respondents indicated that while the presumption for those over 16 was to deal with them in the adult system, in practice if Reporters made a case for keeping them in the Children's Hearings system this would generally be the outcome. Reporters agreed that if they were actively involved with a child or young person and had information to hand, they could make a case that would be acceptable to most Fiscals. However, there were often practical constraints relating to time and availability of information. "Most Reporters get what they want from PFs"[R]. "Although there seems to be a clear system for deciding which children follow what route I always find . . . a significant number end up in the criminal system because the discussion opportunity is missed"[R].

Reporters suggested that the system was possibly more arbitrary than it should be, varying across Scotland. If young people were not currently known to Reporters or "if a hearing is about to happen with a recommendation for termination", it could be difficult to make a case for retention in the Children's Hearings system, particularly if the Reporter had doubts about the potential service response. Not all Reporters were thought to be equally vigilant in making a case for retention and not all Fiscals equally responsive. "I suspect the level of discussion on jointly reported cases between PFs and Reporters is minimal . . . some Reporters would go out of their way to stress the vulnerability and social adversity argument but others I don't think would"[R]. "I don't think . . . that they [PFs] are particularly interested or actively seeking that information"[R]. ". . . Some take a very hard line irrespective of what is on offer . . . they would still want to prosecute"[R].

Both Fiscal respondents indicated that they tended to assume that if no convincing information was forthcoming from Reporters, then the role of the Children's Hearings system was finished. "Once the Reporter says 'supervision is now finished', I'm left with an offender over 16 and there really is no alternative but for me to deal with it "[PF]. The second Fiscal respondent went further, suggesting that the onus was on the Reporter to make a case and if no case was made then it was assumed that everything that could be tried by the Children's Hearings system had been. The consequences for the young people seemed clear. "If they are telling us that they have tried everything and nothing has worked . . . I don't think it is my job to say 'What have you tried?' I take it as correct . . . I suppose we think that by the time they get to 16, not being punished and still doing it . . . then they jolly well ought to start getting punished for it ".

Procurators Fiscal respondents confirmed that they would seldom know of the young person's background or circumstances, unless this was conveyed in police reports, and their decisions thereafter were based mainly on the young person's criminality. "It is correct to say that we don't really get anything on the children's social history ".

All 4 respondents indicated they would welcome access to better information if this could be provided in a timely fashion. The additions to section 27 of the Social Work (Scotland) Act 1968 introduced by section 32 of the Crime and Punishment (Scotland) Act 1997 were viewed as providing a possible means of ensuring better information for Children's Hearings and for Procurators Fiscal, if funded appropriately. This might provide a mechanism for alerting social work services to the needs of these high risk young people. "I think the more information we have on offenders, on the background and the circumstances, the easier it would be to make the right decision . . . if there were diversion schemes to allow them to be addressed in a non-court way, that is something I would find beneficial".

Reporters suggested that any change in current practice would require a change in Crown Office policy and in protocols between Procurators Fiscal and Reporters, and that this was an area in need of development. "We recognise that they [Crown Office] have formed a policy on the matter and we respect their right to have a policy . . . I don't think we agree with it but our ability to change it is limited"[R].

Both Fiscals indicated that they had limited knowledge about the "nuts and bolts" of the hearings or Reporter system. They doubted, however, that there was a strong case for dealing with all young people aged 16 and 17 years outwith the adult system. They acknowledged that many of these young people needed assistance to change, and that better alternatives to prosecution involving structured programmes were required. They suggested that if more young people aged 16 and 17 years were to be retained within the hearings system, or diverted from prosecution, this would require better criteria on the types of cases to be involved and on the kind of provision available. "A set of criteria, a blueprint of the ideal kid to put in the scheme, then we would need to get a report on whether or not the particular youth fitted the blueprint sufficiently . . ."

Reporters expressed confidence that the Children's Hearings system could deal effectively with most of the jointly referred 16 and 17 years olds identified in the study, providing it was resourced properly to ensure public confidence and credibility in the system. "A properly resourced hearing system can deal with them, I am quite confident about the fact but it is not adequately resourced". ". . . The chances of getting a well-resourced provision to deal with offending are not good . . . there is a need for specialised resourcing, focusing on offending".

Reporters expressed some concerns that possibly childcare services were not "geared up" to providing appropriate services for these young people and suggested there seemed to be an artificial split between criminal justice and childcare social work in making appropriate provision: "You need the skill of both". Reporters did not view the Children's Hearings system as a 'soft' option for young people and one suggested that termination of supervision of these difficult young people may possibly be the 'easy' option for the Children's Hearings system.

Procurators Fiscal respondents indicated they had limited knowledge of what childcare or criminal justice social workers did when providing supervision or, indeed, of what the Reporter would expect of the Children's Hearings system. One suggested, however, that "the perception, speaking from a position of ignorance of what Reporters do, is that they [young people] go to a list D [residential] school or they get a slap on the wrist and that's that . . ." [PF]. The comment may indicate a credibility gap in the perceived performance of the Children's Hearings system in dealing with persistent young offenders.

Summary

The study found that:

  • the social circumstances of the 465 cohort children referred for offences in February 1995 were broadly similar to the cohort as a whole, although in some instances slightly more favourable. In the case of jointly reported young people, in many instances they experienced greater social adversity than the whole cohort
  • the children's social background was characterised by family poverty, disruption and difficulty; many had experience of public care and poor educational experience. Many children were considered to have broader and major care needs, in addition to offending. In particular 42% were considered lacking in adequate care and support; 24% were considered to have parent-child difficulties; 12% were considered to have a current drug or alcohol problem in their own right, noticeably higher than for the whole cohort. Only 40 children were identified as having adequate or good childcare
  • most of the offences reported were of a non-violent nature, with a small group (8%) responsible for more than a quarter of offences reported. Seventy-four per cent of the children had been referred for offending in the past and 57% had been placed on supervision prior to February 1995. The average age of first referral was 10.2 years. Fifty-four per cent of those referred for offences reasons in February 1995 had no action taken; 37% appeared before a hearing and 77% were placed on supervision
  • one hundred and thirty of 256 children were investigated. One hundred and thirteen males and 17 females had a criminal conviction by February 1997. Twenty-eight per cent had received at least one period of detention before they were 18 years of age, and 40 (30%, n=130) had appeared in the adult criminal courts before their final termination of supervision under the Children's Hearings system. Thirty-four (94%, n=36) of the young people who received custody had been subject to a supervision requirement in the Children's Hearings system between 1 February 1995 and 1 February 1997. The average age of last recorded supervision termination was 16 years 6 months
  • jointly reported children and young people, though a small proportion of the work of the systems, raised many dilemmas at the interface of the children's and adult systems. Most had experienced major social adversity, had a long history in the Children's Hearings system, and had been subject to supervision at some time in their lives. Many were subject to supervision at the time of the survey at 1 February 1995; a number had experienced neglect and abuse in childhood, and had recorded psychological or psychiatric difficulties. Alcohol and drug misuse represented a serious problem for numbers of the young people and was a major concern of professionals. This was not a surprise to respondents, i.e. the Procurators Fiscal (2) and Reporters (2)
  • the category 'jointly reported' may be a good predictor of high risk of future custody, since over a third had experienced custody before age 18 in the adult criminal justice system within 2 years of the survey period. The category may prove an effective mechanism for identifying young people who are amongst the most 'vulnerable' in terms of their social characteristics and offending behaviour, and in setting priorities. There may be scope for dealing with more jointly reported young people aged 16 and 17 years outwith the adult criminal system
  • the findings indicated that most jointly reported children and young people had had supervision in the Children's Hearings system terminated at some time in 1995, possibly at the peak of their offending activity. The most common reason recorded for termination was non-co-operation or that they had 'outgrown the system', rather than that they were no longer in need of 'compulsory measures'
  • SCRO statistical data indicated outcomes in the adult system resulted in custody for many of these young people within 2 years of the survey period. The study found that Procurators Fiscal, generally, had limited information at the time of decision making to assist them in their decision whether to divert jointly reported young people, to deal with them in the adult criminal justice system or to retain them in the Children's Hearings system.