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The government needs to reform the anti-social behaviour agenda for young people
Last week our Policy Director Ellen Broome gave evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee on their draft Anti-Social Behaviour Bill. She gave evidence alongside representatives from Barnardo’s and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice.
We fully recognise the harmful effects of anti-social behaviour on victims and in no way condone anti-social behaviour perpetrated by children. But the anti-social behaviour agenda, including measures such as ASBOs (anti-social behaviour orders), have had a detrimental and disproportionate effect on children. They unnecessarily draw children into the criminal justice system when they may not have actually committed a crime. (Read our response to the government’s initial consultation on their anti-social behaviour reforms.)
Ellen told the committee that while there are some elements in the new bill that would improve how we tackle anti-social behaviour by children, it is very disappointing that the government has missed a crucial opportunity for reform. The bill fails to propose any preventative measures that would address the root causes of anti-social behaviour.
A separate approach for children and adults
All three organisations voiced their concern that the bill does not propose a separate approach for children or recognise that children are fundamentally different from adults. (You can watch a video of the meeting.) Childhood is a time for experimentation, testing boundaries and making mistakes, but also of learning from those mistakes.
Our practitioners find that anti-social behaviour is often a symptom of children’s unmet needs. Many children in trouble with the law have experienced neglect or abuse, have been looked-after, excluded from school, have disabilities or learning difficulties, and/or largely come from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Importance of preventative measures
It is not appropriate or effective to respond to a child with the full weight of the criminal law. Ellen urged the committee to consider introducing preventative and informal measures for young people involved in anti-social behaviour instead of fast-tracking them into the criminal justice system or custody.
Our years of experience and practice in this area fiind that children’s anti-social behaviour is best dealt with by restorative justice approaches that work with the young person - and the victim - to understand the impact their behaviour has had and address the causes behind it.
Cuts to youth services risk a postcode lottery
We are pleased that the bill proposes some positive measures alongside custody (such as restorative justice or attending a course) but these will be dependent on the availability in the local area. Ellen warned the committee that current large-scale cuts to youth services risk a postcode lottery and justice by geography.
We hope the committee will listen to our concerns. Later this year we will be lobbying the government to ensure these are taken into consideration as the bill enters parliament.