Young adults leaving care are being let down by the justice system, according to a new academic study. Despite up to a third of the current prison population having experienced the care system, criminal justice professionals are ignorant of ways to help young care leavers stay out of jail, it warns.
Professionals "lacked the knowledge and training necessary to deal with issues specific to care leavers", according to research to be published by Manchester Metropolitan and Lancaster Universities. Examples of this lack of knowledge include being unaware of individual grants worth more than £1,000 to help stabilise young people fresh out of local authority care.
The report warns that such knowledge is "crucial" to keeping those who are leaving care out of prison.
Academics studying Clear Approach, a pilot scheme designed by the Care Leavers Association (CLA) to help men and women aged between 18 and 25 stay out of prison, found that too many criminal justice professionals lacked the skills to help young men and women who had been in care.
The Clear Approach scheme forms part of an Intensive Alternative to Custody (IAC) order: a unique 10-week programme offered to young men otherwise facing short custodial sentences. One participant, Jake, 23, was taken into care aged 10, but on leaving found himself homeless, the victim of attempted rape, and under pressure to sell drugs to survive. He considered prison a safe haven. "It might sound stupid, but people feel safe in prison. You've got three meals a day, you've got telly, you've got people what are going to watch you and make sure you're alright," he said. Others said that, until joining Clear Approach, they had been completely unaware of any leaving care support they might be entitled to.
Max, 19, received a leaving care adviser as well as the leaving care grant he was entitled to, which came to more than £1,600 and provided him with some much needed financial stability.
All of the young men reported positive effects after being involved with the CLA pilot scheme.
The soon to be published research notes: "Clear Approach allows for empowerment to occur at an individual and collective level, through group work and listening to the stories of outside speakers who have been through the care and criminal justice systems themselves. In our view, Clear Approach should be viewed as an integral part of a much wider strategy to address the often-neglected needs of care leavers in the criminal justice system. Nationally, there is very little specific support available to care leavers in the criminal justice system, and an intervention like Clear Approach has great potential to help fill this gap."
The report author, Patrick Williams, added: "The important issue of making visible those who are at particular risk of becoming lost in the criminal justice system was also highlighted, as was the theme of empowerment which underpinned the structure of Clear Approach."
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