THERE needs to be changes to legislation and the court system to better support young people at risk, a new report has found.
The Sentencing Advisory Council on Tuesday released its third and final report in its series on crossover kids - children sentenced or put on diversion in the Children's Court who were also known to the Child Protection Service.
The latest report canvassed potential reforms, including amending legislation to clearly outline the relevance of factors like childhood trauma to sentencing children; funding the expansion of the specialised Children's Court in regional Victoria; and making information about a child's protection history readily available to sentencing courts.
"The current legislation specifies matters that courts must consider when sentencing children, but there is no express reference to the relevance of childhood trauma," the council's deputy chair Lisa Ward said. "Our research indicates that this should be addressed.
"We know that a child's early involvement in the criminal justice system predicts ongoing involvement in crime. If we can effectively address their trauma, we can help avoid a lifetime of damage to children, their families, and the community."
Legal Aid Victoria's manager of strategy for Family, Youth, and Children's Law, Olivia Greenwell, said the organisation welcomed the council's recommendations.
"Through our work in the sector, we see the way young people living in out-of-home care, particularly in regional areas, can be put at increased risk of criminalisation," Ms Greenwell said.
"For this reason, we particularly welcome the recommendation to resource the expansion of the fully specialised Children's Court to regional areas, with specialised Children's Court locations operating as regional hubs for supports and services.
"Given the prevalence of this issue in Victoria's regions, we think this is of particular value."
ARC Justice's senior child protection lawyer Christie George also supported the changes, but said more could be done in early prevention.
"We see there is a real need for the early provision and coordination of services for young people and families so they can reduce or avoid the need for any other services to be involved," Ms George said.
"There needs to be increased funding and resources to provide that earlier support. There are a few programs that exist in Bendigo but they are quite stretched and under-resourced.
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"That means there is often a strict eligibility criteria and usually long wait lists. So making those programs more accessible and providing that support earlier could mean families avoid the need for legal intervention in child protection or the youth justice system."
Anglicare Victoria regional director Francis Lynch said early intervention was key.
"There needs to be better collaboration and communication between the various services and systems that work around the family," he said.
"Good outcomes can happen when the people who are working to support young people collaborate together.
"What we know is that some early intervention can really stop a whole lot of things from happening further down into the criminal justice system."
But Mr Lynch said if young people were placed in child protection, there were ways to prevent them from ending up in the youth justice system.
"When young people end up in care, one of the most important things is to keep supporting the family," he said.
"Keep them engaged with the young people with the hope the young person can return to the family when safe to do so.
"One of the most important things is keeping families connected. Children are less likely to end up in the criminal justice system if they are safely with family."
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