Criminal records for children in care should not always be disclosed, says leading care charity

YOUNG people who get a criminal record while in care should have the context and their mental state at the time explained in safety checks.

One of the country's leading charities for care experienced people, Who Cares? Scotland, has called for vetting certificates to mention the circumstances of crimes committed by care-experienced young people.

The charity's CEO Duncan Dunlop said some young people end up with criminal records for trivial incidents which would never happen in a different family situation.

He also argues that young people who may not have understood the judicial process and what criminal records they would end up with at the time are later deterred from applying for jobs, education or volunteering.

This, he said, holds them back further back from achieving their full potential.

In a submission to parliament over the new Disclosure (Scotland) Bill, the charity make the case for disclosing whether a child was going through a period of mental distress when criminal incidents took place, as well as explaining their circumstances and whether the convictions were obtained through the children's hearing system or in court.

According to official figures, children who have been in care make up roughly 0.5% of the population in Scotland, but account for 33% of youth offenders, and 31% of the adult prison population.

Dunlop told the Herald on Sunday: "Care Experienced people are just like everyone else. They have hopes and aspirations. Yet throughout their lives Care Experienced people can find themselves on the receiving end of negative perceptions in their community, and sadly from the adults around them.

"It’s these negative attitudes that can lead to Care Experienced people being criminalised for doing things that, in other families, would not be met with police involvement.

"Care Experienced people tell us that they have been met with escalation and blame when what they need from the adults who have chosen to care for them is empathy and patience.

“We know that the lifelong consequences of criminalisation are often not understood by Care Experienced children and young people at the time at which a charge is picked up. They are often only understood later in life, when job opportunities are lost because convictions are brought up during the disclosure process. The impact this has causes Care Experienced people to avoid putting themselves forward for volunteering, education and employment opportunities, preventing them from being able to reach their full potential. It can feel like a double discrimination, where they are judged for being in care and judged for having charges.

“It’s unfair to the people who have to deal with this judgement their whole lives. I know one woman who threw a boiled carrot at someone in a children’s home. This led to the police being called and a charge of assault. This was more than a decade ago and it is something she still has to explain. We have to remember that society is losing out here too.

"There are workplaces and communities across Scotland that are missing out on talented, capable and dynamic Care Experienced individuals.

"That’s why we have called for a disclosure process that safeguards children and adults whilst allowing people who are criminalised because of their surroundings, the chance to live happy and fulfilled lives.”

Case Study:

Liam Slaven, 19, from Glasgow, spent time as a child in residential units, where he said staff used the police to try and control young people.

He ended up with a criminal record, which continues to affect him now when applying for jobs and voluntary posts.

He explained: "Growing up in a children’s home police were routinely called to where I lived. It felt like the staff were using the police to try and manage the behaviour of me and other young people who weren’t seen as compliant with the rules. That led to an environment that felt intense and that something could kick off at any moment.

"I felt like, one member of staff in particular enjoyed that environment and it makes me wonder if he thought his job was to be more like his former job as prison guard than the one he was currently in.

"This environment resulted in me being charged a number of times.

"Going through the children’s hearings system I was told I would be 'protected' from gaining charges on my record and that they would never turn up on PVGs or criminal record checks.

"I believed this until during a hearing me and my mum disagreed with the wording of what was being said, but we didn’t know this would mean we’d go to a sheriff for it to be changed. At the court the children’s reporter came said that they had the wording changed and asked if I agreed to it.

"I said yes but little did I know that this meant that I would have a criminal charge on my record. This has caused problems later in my life as I was accused of lying on a volunteer application but I had no idea that when my PVG came through I would have a charge on it."

Liam said the criminal record has been detrimental, not only when applying for jobs but also when he is working with other care experienced young people.

he said: "People from the system know me. It’s disempowering and holds me back from moving on with my life."

He said that although some charges should be disclosed, depending on severity, he believes it should be take n on an individual level and added: "These environments are where many young people receive criminal charges, often for something that wouldn’t be criminalised in a normal family home.

"All circumstances should be taken into account. There should be an independent reviewer who can provide context and understanding to both the person and the potential employer, if there are charges. Given some context and understanding instead of a blanket approach, more people would be able to live productive lives."


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