5 Disadvantages in home and family life
5.2 Prevalence and distribution of indicators of disadvantage in home and family life
The 19 home and family disadvantages that have been included in our analysis are listed in the first column of Table 5.1. These disadvantages are wide-ranging; they encompass not only the individual’s family background, relationships within the family and experiences of local authority care, but also current living arrangements (which may or may not be within the family home) and early parenthood.
Table 5.1 also shows the prevalence of each type of disadvantage in our sample of 200
sentenced children. In interpreting these figures it must be borne in mind that – as noted above – the prevalence rates are under-estimates because of the incomplete data, and hence reveal the extent of known rather than actual disadvantages. The figures reveal that around three-quarters of our sample (76%) are known to have had absent fathers, around half (51%) to live in a
deprived household and/or unsuitable accommodation, and just under half (47%) to have run away or absconded at some point in their lives. Four other factors are each known to be present in more than one quarter of the sample: having been on the child protection register and/or experienced abuse or neglect (39%); having had an absent mother (33%); witnessing domestic violence (28%); and experience of local authority care (27%).
It is difficult to assess the extent to which the figures in Table 5.1 reveal disproportionate levels of disadvantage among the children in our sample compared to non-offending children, since there is a lack of data on the prevalence of these problems among the general population of 12-17 year-olds in England and Wales. However, some comparative figures for the general population are presented in Table 5.2, along with the related figures from our sample. These clearly
demonstrate the disproportionality of disadvantage among children in custody – even on the basis of our under-estimated prevalence rates for the sample of 200.
Factor % cases
Absent father (i.e. has lived apart from father for significant period of childhood; not solely through bereavement)
Living in deprived household (e.g. dependent on benefits) and/or unsuitable accommodation (e.g. overcrowded, lacks basic amenities) 36
Has ever run away or absconded 47%
Ever on child protection register and/or has experienced abuse or neglect 39%
Absent mother (i.e. has lived apart from mother for significant period of childhood; not solely through bereavement)
Has witnessed domestic violence 28%
Ever accommodated in local authority care (through voluntary agreement by parents and/or care order)
Father/step-father involved in criminal activity 18%
Sibling(s) involved in criminal activity 17%
Chaotic or highly disorganised living arrangements 16%
Large family size (at least five children in the family) 16%
Parent with physical or mental health problems or learning disability 14%
Mother/step-mother has misused drugs or alcohol 12%
Is a parent him/herself or is pregnant 9%
Father/step-father has misused drugs or alcohol 7%
Bereavement – father 6%
Bereavement – sibling(s) 4%
Bereavement – mother 3%
Mother/step-mother involved in criminal activity 3%
36. Definitions taken from the core Asset form.
Table 5.2: Indicators of disadvantage in home and family life: comparative figures
1 General population figure is for children experiencing serious maltreatment by parents during childhood – based on national random sample of 2,869 young people (18-24yrs) (source: Cawson, 2002); figure for custody sample includes experiences of abuse or neglect, or having been on child protection register.
2 Household deprivation for general population based on national average of secondary school children entitled to free school meals (source: DCSF, 2009a); for custody sample, includes dependence on benefits and unsuitable accommodation.
3 Children in care general population figure is percentage in care as at 31 March 2009, and incorporates all types of care orders (source: DCSF, 2009b); figure for custody sample includes any prior experience of care.
4 General population figure is an estimate of numbers of overnight runaways (sample 10,000) www.childrenssociety.org.uk 5 Source: Green et al (2005)
6 Source: ACMD (2003)
Multiple home and family disadvantages
Figure 5.1 shows the distribution of indicators of home/family disadvantage across the sample. These numbers vividly demonstrate the concentration, or multiple layering, of family problems among these 200 children. Around three-quarters of the sample are known to have three or more indicators of home/family disadvantage, and more than two-fifths to have five or more. The mean number of indicators per child is 4.2. It should be noted, however, that this analysis involves a simple addition of factors rather than any kind of weighting, and it is likely that certain combinations of factors are more significant than others.
Figure 5.1: Distribution of home/family disadvantages
General population of children Children in custody
Experience of abuse in the family1 16% 39%
Deprived households2 13% 51%
Living in care3 0.6% 27%
Has ever run away/absconded 11%4 47%
Experience of death of parent(s) and/or sibling(s) 4%5 12%
Analysis of gender differences within our sample is limited by the fact that there are only 17 girls among the 200 children. Likewise, the scope for inter-ethnic comparison is limited by the
composition of the sample, which includes just 18 black, 17 mixed race and 7 Asian children; the remaining 158 are white. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that girls seem to be more
disadvantaged than boys; and white and mixed race children to be more disadvantaged than those who are black and Asian. The indicators for which there is the greatest gender difference in prevalence are ‘witnessed domestic violence’ (59% of the girls, compared to 25% of the boys); ‘substance misuse by mother’ (35% of the girls and 9% of the boys); and ‘substance misuse by father’ (18% of girls and 5% of boys). The most marked ethnic differences are seen in relation to ‘witnessed domestic violence’ (35% of white, 30% of mixed race, 6% of black and no Asian children) and ‘criminal activity – father’ (47% of mixed race, 17% of white and no Asian or black children).
These ethnic and gender differences are reflected in the following average numbers of indicators per child:
• The mean number of indicators per girl is 5.2, compared to a mean of 4.1 per boy. • The mean number of indicators for mixed race children is 4.6, compared to 4.4 for
white children, and 2.7 for both black and Asian children.37
(See Tables B13 and B14 in Appendix B for full gender and ethnic breakdowns of the distribution of indicators.)