Crossover Kids Report 3: Sentencing Children Who Have Experienced Trauma

The Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare welcomes the third report on “crossover children” by the Sentencing Advisory Council of Victoria (SAC).  “Crossover children” are children who are known to Child Protection Services and engage in offending behaviour. 

The report highlights the profound impact of trauma, including experiences of child abuse and neglect, on children’s development and behaviour. Children who have experienced trauma and who are known to child protection have a higher risk of engaging in criminal offending than other children. 

It is vitally important that a child’s trauma history, including their history with child protection, is known to magistrates and judges at the time of sentencing. Increased information sharing between the Family and Criminal Divisions of the Children’s Court is important, as are dedicated Children’s Courts across regional Victoria. For too long children in regional Victoria have not had access to specialist Children’s Court magistrates to determine their matters. 

Deb Tsorbaris, CEO of the Centre says, “unfortunately the reality for many children who are in out-of-home care is that they attend court to face often serious charges without the support of a child protection worker.” The SAC is recommending that child protection workers must attend court when a child on a child protection order is facing criminal charges.”  

The SAC again identifies the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the criminal justice system. It highlights the need for both systemic and local responses as well as services that are designed, developed and led by Aboriginal people in keeping with the principle of self-determination. 

If implemented correctly, the reforms identified by the SAC will improve outcomes for Victorian children. They provide a blueprint for how to implement a holistic response to child offending- one where a child’s experience of trauma is acknowledged and considered.  

Children who are supported by the Out-of-home care system should not find themselves at risk of falling through the cracks.  

The current Children, Youth and Families Act (2005) has a lack of consideration for how trauma should be factored into sentencing. There are no specific requirements that a court consider the child’s age and development at the time of offending; it does not require consideration of abuse, neglect, loss, or removal from family that may impact development or relate to offending. Nor does it specifically require the sentencing court to consider the need to protect the child from harm or risk of harm.  

No child should be punished for experiencing trauma. The Centre hopes that the new Youth Justice Act will provide an opportunity to address some of the key barriers to trauma-informed sentencing, promoting consistency and a focus on health and community over punitive measures. 

“Youth offending should not be treated as ‘adult offending light’; children require a distinct response that focuses on developmental and social needs, favouring early intervention,” Ms Tsorbaris said. 

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