Assessing disadvantage within the sentenced sample

In document Punishing disadvantage a profile of children in custody (Page 63-65)

5 Disadvantages in home and family life

5.1 Assessing disadvantage within the sentenced sample

It is widely recognised within the criminological research literature – as we have observed in Chapter 1 of this report – that offending by children is strongly associated with various forms of disadvantage. These ‘risk factors’ for offending include disadvantages relating to: family life; the wider social environment in which children live; socio-economic status; experiences of and responses to education; and emotional and psychological needs and dispositions.

As part of this study, we wished to assess the prevalence and distribution of these kinds of disadvantages among children in custody. In order to do so, we have focussed on the randomly selected sample of 200 children who were sentenced to custody in the last six months of 2008.32 Our assessment of disadvantage among these children is limited to those

attributes on which information was available to us through the completed Asset forms and other documentation held on the secure access clearing house system (SACHS) database. This means that our figures on disadvantage are significant under-estimates. Information on some types of disadvantage (particularly those relating to learning disabilities and speech, language and communication needs, and also experiences of criminal victimisation) is simply not included in Asset, due to the focus of the process on items deemed strictly relevant to offending behaviour rather than welfare concerns, although in practice the two cannot be easily differentiated. Our analysis has also been hindered by the large amount of missing data on items that are included in Asset (see Appendix A). It should be remembered also that in 14 cases (7% of the sample) Asset forms were completed without the child being interviewed; in these cases, the report writer’s insight into the level and types of disadvantages experienced by the child is likely to be particularly limited. Moreover, the Asset process is largely focussed on individual or family-level deficits and tends to draw attention away from structural

dimensions of disadvantage.

Nevertheless, the available information allows us to explore many of, if not all, the types of disadvantage experienced by the children in our sample. In so doing, we do not intend to

32. We did not include the 100 remanded children in the disadvantage analysis, because we lacked detailed information on a significant minority of these individuals.

investigate whether there are causal relationships between particular forms of disadvantage and offending behaviour. Rather, we are interested in how different kinds of disadvantage intersect with each other and, particularly, in the extent to which the children face multiple layers of complex problems. Previous reviews of Asset and other research into the

backgrounds of children in the youth justice system have tended to look at the prevalence of specific risk factors or types of risk factor in isolation from each other.33There have been few

other attempts to analyse systematically, through the use of both quantitative and qualitative data, the layering of these factors within a randomly selected sample of children in custody.

In addition, because the analysis encompasses so much of the qualitative information contained in Asset forms and other documents, we have been able to look in close detail at the specific difficulties and disadvantages faced by the sampled children. This means that we have gained some understanding not only that multiple problems exist in the children’s lives, but also – as we will demonstrate through the use of narrative accounts in this chapter – of how these problems impact on individual children and are experienced by them.

Methodology of disadvantage analysis

For the purposes of our analysis of disadvantage, we compiled a list of 30 types of

disadvantage through a process of reviewing and merging the data we had collected. We then subdivided the 30 types of disadvantage into two sub-groups: first, 19 factors relating to home and family life; secondly, 11 psycho-social and educational problems.34While these 30

factors are by no means an exhaustive list, we are confident that they represent most of the significant forms of disadvantage that are generally found to be prevalent among children who offend. As far as possible, each of the 30 disadvantage factors has been defined as mutually exclusive, in order to avoid double-counting in our assessment of the overall distribution of types of disadvantage.

Drawing on both the quantitative and qualitative data for all cases in the sample,35 we coded

each of the 30 factors dichotomously: that is, as either ‘present’ or ‘not present’. In cases where the presence of the factor was not known, this was coded as ‘not present’.

This chapter presents our findings with respect to home and family disadvantage. After looking at the prevalence and distribution of these factors across the sample, we will go on to examine three areas of disadvantage in more detail: namely, general family problems;

experiences of local authority care; and bereavement. Following this discussion, Chapter 6 focuses on the psycho-social and educational problems we have identified, while Chapter 7 pulls together the data on both the family and the psycho-social/educational facets of disadvantage.

33. See, for example, Baker et al (2003); Harrington and Bailey (2005); Chitsabesan et al (2006); YJB (2006); Arnull et al (2007). 34. In the criminological literature, risk factors are typically classified as community/environmental, familial and personal/individual

(see, for example, discussion of the relevant literature in Farrington and Welsh, 2007); however, we found that our data were more amenable to the two-fold classification outlined here than to the more usual three-fold classification.

35. Some of the coding was primarily based on quantitative data: that is, where completed tick boxes in Asset provided most of the relevant information (supplemented as appropriate with data from other sources). For other variables, the coding was primarily based on qualitative data derived from Asset text boxes or from other documents.

In document Punishing disadvantage a profile of children in custody (Page 63-65)