Tuesday, August 9, 2022

The experiences of 400 children in trouble with the law cry out for compassion

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I rarely talk about reports here. I like to focus on the extraordinary people I meet across Scotland and the positive action they are taking.

These practical interventions transform the lives of others every day. We need more positivity in our lives as a counterpoint to the terrible things that are happening at home and abroad to give us some hope.

But sometimes I see something that makes me take stock, such as the Scottish Children’s Reporter’s new report on the lives of 400 children aged 12-15 in trouble with the law.

It’s no surprise reading the lengthy and emotional account that these children ended up with the reporter.

The report stated that the children’s lives were “marked by adversity, trauma, neglect, harmful behaviors of others, victimization and exploitation (including criminal exploitation and sexual exploitation), often combined with socioeconomic disadvantage”.

The result was a group of children whose health and well-being were fundamentally damaged. They self-harmed, abused drugs, and lived lives riddled with domestic violence and aggression. And of course her education was affected.

The majority of children were brought into the services before the age of 12 due to concerns, and many before they were even a year old. Most came to the reporter for reasons of care and protection, with lack of parental care being the most common. A significant number of the 400 were in foster care.

We try very hard to keep children out of the justice system, and with good reason. There are phenomenal people in Scotland trying to catch these children whenever and wherever we find them, to try to repair the damage, to envelop them with care and kindness, to change the way.

Only 45 of the 400 children had committed the most serious offenses of a sexual or violent nature and we are that much further in understanding the abusive behavior of these children and what needs to be done to reduce the risk and address their abusive behavior . It is complicated, long-term and specialized work.

We raised the age of criminal responsibility to 12, but we still lag behind many other progressive countries that have raised it higher by recognizing the science and the opportunity to transform these young lives.

I have previously written about William Lindsay, who took his own life in Polmont Prison at the age of 16, a suicidal, traumatized child with troubles with the law. He is the child that this report embodies, he is the face that comes to mind when I read about the lives of these children. His face is what I think of when I talk about failure, his face.

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