A pilot scheme to address the often-neglected needs of care leavers in the criminal justice system could play a vital part in a wider strategy to deal with their problems, according to Dr Claire Fitzpatrick of Lancaster University’s Law School.
Children in care account for less than 1% of the total population. But 24% of the adult male prison population and 31% of the adult female prison population were taken into care as children, according to figures from the Ministry of Justice.
The impact of the pioneering ‘Clear Approach’ project in Greater Manchester has been assessed by Dr Fitzpatrick and Patrick Williams, a senior lecturer in Criminology at Manchester Metropolitan University.
They are calling for funding and resources to be made available to roll out the programme on a long-term, sustainable basis “so that it has the opportunity to bed-in to mainstream provision.”
Their research looked at the impact of the ‘Clear Approach’ intervention, which was made available to care leavers who had been given an Intensive Alternative to Custody (IAC) order, a relatively new type of community-based sentence.
The project, which was run by the charity The Care Leavers Association, gave the young men involved the chance to talk about their experiences in care to other people, who had also gone through the system.
The participants were also given information about the support they might be entitled to under leaving care legislation.
Dr Fitzpatrick, who co-authored the report into the programme, said: “Nationally, there is very little specific support available to care leavers in the criminal justice system, and an intervention like ‘Clear Approach’ has great potential to help fill this gap.”
“The particular vulnerability of care leavers was reinforced through interviews with a sample of the young men.
“The analysis leaves us in little doubt that care leavers as a group need specific, specialist attention when they come into contact with the justice system.
“We identified a number of very positive features of the intervention. The space to talk about care experiences to someone else who had ‘been there’ was clearly valued by some of the young men, particularly when they had very little conventional support available to them from elsewhere.
“Also of crucial importance was the knowledge gained about what support individuals might be entitled to under existing legislation, for those leaving care.
“And a further key factor was the increase in confidence that care leavers reported through being helped to make sense of, and articulate, often difficult past family experiences.
“That some care leavers engaged with the ‘Clear Approach’ programme, despite non-engagement with other conditions of the IAC order is a testament to both the quality of the intervention and the facilitator.”
However, the researchers did find a number of barriers to delivering ‘Clear Approach’ as intended. They included defining what a ‘care leaver’ actually is and identifying relevant young men to refer to the programme.
The authors concluded: “Despite the obstacles identified, these are not insurmountable and should certainly not detract from the positive benefits that engaging with ‘Clear Approach’ could bring.”