Punishing Abuse

Punishing Abuse and the underlying action research programe on which the report was based was commissioned from YCTCS Ltd by the West Midlands Combined Authority and the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner.

Punishing Abuse is being seen to be one of the most wide-ranging contemporary studies conducted into children in the criminal justice system in this country. In addition to youth justice reforms the report provides a range of proposals that focus on implementing systemic change to how public organisations support disadvantaged children and families who have experienced adversity, abuse, loss and trauma.

Dr Alex Chard, Director YCTCS ltd and report author said:

This report portrays the experiences children in the justice system have suffered, this is profoundly saddening and shocking. I hope that this report will initiate system wide change to improve the lives of the many children who experience adversity, abuse, loss and trauma, better protecting both those children and importantly their communities.

Andy Street, the Mayor of the West Midlands said:

Whilst there is never an excuse for committing crime, this report sets out some of the terrible experiences children in the criminal justice system have faced growing up. … This report identifies a clear link between children and teenagers suffering from abuse, violence, and poverty, and then going on to commit criminal offences. It is therefore imperative that these underlying causes are addressed, and there is a serious amount of collaborative hard work needed to make that happen.

David Jamieson, West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner said:

This is a harrowing report that lays bare some of the awful circumstances some young people find themselves in through no fault of their own. As Police and Crime Commissioner I am committed to improving the opportunities that young people have to ensure that they lead fulfilling lives away from crime. … This report shows that much more needs to be done to protect the most vulnerable young people in our society and more needs to be invested to support children and their families who are at risk. Collectively we are failing some of our most vulnerable young people and we are all paying the price later on. This report needs to be a catalyst for change.

Comments by Reviewers

Gwyneth Boswell
Professor of Criminology & Criminal Justice & Director, Boswell Research Fellows, Norwich

This piece of research is a true tour de force. Unusually, it brings together quantitative and qualitative data to demonstrate forcefully everything that those of us who have been in this field of study for a long time know to be true, much of it quite heart-breaking.

Children who end up in the Criminal Justice System are more frequently the product of abuse, loss and neglect than ever reaches public and government awareness. The WMCA and WMPCC are to be congratulated on their willingness to adapt their own policies and strategies in response to Dr Chard’s crucial findings.

These children and their communities will be so much better protected if the range and depth of failures that this report reveals are both recognised and addressed by policy-makers and practitioners nationwide.

Shaun Brown
The Difference - Programme Director

Dr Alex Chard’s report, Punishing Abuse, is a phenomenal piece of work. Accessible, rigorous and impactful. Through the Abuse Loss Trauma Attachment and Resilience (ALTARTM) framework, fundamental connections between childhood experiences and their physiological and psychological impacts are expertly and clearly drawn.

Using both qualitative and quantitative methodologies Punishing Abuse carefully studies the lives of 80 children from the West Midlands: powerfully demonstrating both the complexity and commonality in their experiences and outcomes.

Most of all Punishing Abuse tells the tragic reality of children’s lives. We hear about the impact of harm and trauma caused by abuse and loss. Punishing Abuse states it’s challenge loud and clear. These children deserve to be seen, heard and given the chance for recovery.

I hope that Punishing Abuse will provide impetus and foundations for vital education, care and justice systems changes in the West Midlands and beyond.

Marius Frank
Director Youth Justice Lead, Achievement for All 

Read this report. Read every word. Read as if a child's life depends on it. Because it does. The brutal reality of Dr Alex Chard's report is that it we are failing the most needy, the most vulnerable, the most disadvantaged and the most challenging children and young people in society, time and again.

We are failing to safeguard these individuals by not identifying extreme needs in the first 1000 days of life; we are failing to recognise the stark consequences of the collision between poverty, abuse and neglect; we are failing to prioritise these children in terms of joined-up therapeutic and healing service delivery that puts the Child First. And we are failing our communities, in terms of the social, emotional and economic consequences of unmet needs, and damage to the very fabric of society through avoidable criminality... not to mention the desolate life outcomes writ large in the children featured in this report. 

There are solutions, but these only make sense and become workable, shared and passionately enacted if the reasons for these solutions are fully understood and deeply owned by every individual in public service. So read the report. A child's life depends on it.

Marc Radley
Strategic Director, CACI

This is an important report that sharpens our understanding and focus regarding the impact of abuse and loss for children both within the youth justice system and wider services. I welcome the evidence in this report. The call for policy and practice changes to identify and address deeper factors for individuals recovering from adversity in youth justice and surrounding support systems e.g. mental health and education support, is timely.

Of central significance is the intrinsic challenge to simplification of processes and loss of context, which often results from snapshot assessment. Understanding the impact of multiple life event factors over time is needed for children to be afforded the best opportunity for recovery. Capturing such data in an analysable form is vital to effective diversion, prevention and case management. Analysis of such data is also essential to provide feedback to strategic governing groups about the depth of need and shifts in children’s journeys and outcomes.

Graham Robb
Independent Chair of Youth Justice Management Boards and Consultant

I warmly welcome the publication of “Punishing Abuse” as it gives helpful profile to the drive for system wide design and change in England and Wales, let alone those proposals relating specifically to the West Midlands. 

The analysis of the group of eighty children gives a really substantial evidential base to the drive in various parts of England and Wales to develop trauma informed services but takes us well beyond that into whole system thinking for example about poverty, disproportionality and the very significant childhood adversity in many children’s lives. Clearly the additional impact of COVID just adds to those risk factors for children.

This report should inform policy at national regional and local level. Every local Youth Justice Management Board should consider the analysis of the 80 children and consider the practice and strategic implications. The HMIP criteria for Effective Boards in their annual report (December 2020) asks  "How well do Board members understand the cohort and what needs to be done?” - engaging with this report will help local Boards ask a powerful new set of questions.

Jackie Roberts 
Health and Wellbeing Team Programme Manager, Public Health England

This is brilliant work and a very powerful report. The proposals for reform of the West Midlands youth justice system and wider services are strong and logical. They will strengthen and improve practice.

The proposed use of ALTARTM (abuse, loss, trauma, attachment and resilience) as an assessment model could be life changing and much more effective than considering risk in the context of current behavior.

One of the most important proposals is to develop a clear vision for a reformed youth justice system that takes full account of abuse and loss, that meets domestic legal obligations and complies with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

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