Lords support our changes to the law that 'naming' children is 'shaming'
The new Anti-Social Crime and Policing bill currently going through parliament will mean that the identity of children involved in anti-social behaviour (ASB) will be revealed so they can be ‘named and shamed’. This puts children at risk, violates their privacy and actually worsens their chance of turning their lives around.
The bill was debated yesterday in the House of Lords and we were delighted to see that several peers supported the amendments (changes) we had proposed. You can read more in the joint briefing we produced for peers with the SCYJ, Liberty and the Criminal Justice Alliance.
What we are trying to change
The law currently states that all children who have committed a criminal offence should have their identity hidden because as children, they need to be safeguarded, and they have a right to privacy under international law. This anonymity is only lifted under exceptional circumstances at the discretion of a judge.
But if this bill goes through unchanged, children getting the government’s new type of anti-social behaviour orders or injunctions will have their identity revealed by default. This means they could have their names printed in newspapers or their picture displayed in a ‘rogues’ gallery’ of posters around their local area.
This is a wholly disproportionate response to what in many cases will not have been criminal behaviour – but rather children being children and doing things like playing football or climbing a tree.
‘Naming and shaming’ puts children at risk
The government argues that ‘naming and shaming’ is needed to reassure communities that they are taking action on anti-social behaviour, but in yesterday’s debate the minister acknowledged that this must be weighed up against any negative effects on the young person.
We have serious reservations about the safeguarding implications of the naming and shaming of children. For example, publicly naming a child could mean that they are subsequently targeted by individuals or gangs wishing to exploit their vulnerability, and this was a concern highlighted by several peers in the debate.
Identifying a child as having been involved in ASB could indicate to predatory adults that the child may engage in risk-taking behaviour or that they will be more susceptible to being groomed. Children with special educational needs are also more likely to be involved in ASB, making them particularly vulnerable to exploitation.
Counterproductive to children’s rehabilitation
The government believes that ‘naming and shaming’ is an effective deterrent to children committing ASB but there is no evidence for this. In fact, we know from our services that ‘naming and shaming’ is often counter-productive. It can prevent children making a fresh start, turning their lives around and re-engaging positively with their community and as they will be trying to counter negative attitudes held against them.
‘Naming and shaming’ can also make it extremely difficult for professionals to get the services that help break the cycle of anti-social behaviour and support children’s rehabilitation. As Baroness Hamwee stated in yesterday’s debate, this can lead to a perpetuation of the problems rather than nipping them in the bud.
In the age of the internet and social media, details of a child’s identity are indelible once revealed. This negative stamp can affect their future ability to get a job, get housing and contribute to society. Our practice has found that past occurrences of ‘naming and shaming’ has criminalised, stigmatised and negatively labelled young people has exacerbated the problems rather than helping to resolve them.
Changes at the next stage of the bill
We were extremely pleased with the level of support we received yesterday in the House of Lords and will be continuing to work with peers to ensure that the government makes clear how they will assess the safeguarding risks that ‘naming and shaming’ pose to children and the impact on their rehabilitation.
Tackling children’s anti-social behaviour can only be done effectively if we are able to help, not hinder, their rehabilitation and ensure these children are not stigmatised for the rest of their life.