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The faulty child welfare system is the real issue behind our youth justice crisis

Katherine McFarlane writes in The Conversation (13.2.17) about recent claims of a ‘crisis’ in the nation’s juvenile justice systems, arguing that few people are talking about how children in residential care and those in juvenile jail are essentially the same people.

‘Somewhere along the way, many vulnerable children in state care turn to crime. How this happens and what can be done about it are two of the most important crime-prevention questions facing society. Evidence indicates that, if the care-to-crime pathway is not acknowledged and addressed, today’s vulnerable kids will become tomorrow’s criminals.

‘There have recently been a series of riots, escapes and assaults in youth detention centres across the country, most notably in Victoria. Victims of such assaults, as well as commentators, immediately called for tougher sentencing and harsher treatment of detainees.

‘Critics have cast a wide net of blame for Victoria’s woes. Paul McDonald, the CEO of Anglicare Victoria, the state’s largest provider of out-of-home care services, blamed the changing demographics of young offenders – their age, ethnic origin and circumstance. He said the youth justice system had failed because the state’s justice program had “for too long … been the poor cousin to child protection issues”.

‘McDonald is a former government official responsible for both Victoria’s juvenile justice and child protection systems. Yet in all his criticism, he has been silent about one fact: children in our juvenile jails were failed by child protection systems like the one he used to run. He is not alone in ignoring this link.

‘Policymakers are reluctant to acknowledge the care system is producing criminals. This is despite abundant research showing children become involved in crime through the processes of the care environment itself.’

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