Early exposure to violence, abuse and trauma must be taken into account when sentencing children to make sure they are supported before being convicted, a new Victorian report says
The Sentencing Advisory Council on Tuesday released a report outlining the effect of trauma in childhood offending, calling for legal reforms.
Many children who start offending have been victims of crime themselves, council deputy chair Lisa Ward said, while urging recognition of childhood trauma as a crime prevention strategy.
"We know that a child's early involvement in the criminal justice system predicts ongoing involvement in crime," she said.
"If we can effectively address their trauma, we can help avoid a lifetime of damage to children, their families and the community.'
The current Victorian legislation fails to mention the relevance of childhood trauma or child protection involvement to sentencing, the council found.
Experiences such as physical or sexual abuse, witnessing family violence or the removal from the family of origin can make youths prone to behaviours that will lead to criminal offences.
Introducing earlier interventions to address the causes of offending will help decrease the number of "crossover kids" appearing in court, the report concluded.
"Crossover kids" are those who have been involved in both the criminal justice and child protection system.
Previous reports from the council showed that 1938 of 5063 children sentenced or diverted in the state's children's court through 2016 and 2017 were subject to at least one child protection report.
They also showed that 94 per cent were known to child protection before their first sentenced offence.
Some of the changes proposed to tackle these issues include funding the expansion of the specialised Children's Court throughout regional Victoria or making information about a child's protection history readily available to sentencing courts.
Youth Justice Minister Ben Carroll acknowledged the need for the government to continue rolling out evidence-based programs aimed at intervening early when children may be heading towards crime.
"The big issue is not what happens to young people at court, it's what we do to stop them getting to court in the first place," he told reporters.
"We've got a lot more work to do. We're very focused on it."
Shadow attorney-general Edward O'Donohue said that giving young people opportunities to learn new skills while in the justice system was also crucial.
"We need to find better pathways for young offenders to break the cycle of offending," he said.
Australian Associated Press