New research report published

Posted on 23rd Jun 2022

SCRA and the Scottish Government have produced a new research report today (Thursday 23 June). 

The report ‘Children aged 12 to 15 years involved in offending and referred to the Children’s Reporter and Procurator Fiscal in Scotland examined the cases of 400 children.

This research was carried out to provide evidence on offending by children aged 12 to 15 years to inform the considerations of the Scottish Government’s Age of Criminal Responsibility (ACR) Advisory Group on a future ACR in Scotland.

Background information:

Children in Scotland who offend can be referred by the Police to the Reporter, or jointly reported by the Police, to both the Procurator Fiscal and the Reporter. Jointly reported referrals tend to be more serious offences. The Procurator Fiscal will decide whether to retain the case, or refer it to the Reporter for decision making. 

This study examines 400 children who were referred to the Reporter, or who were jointly reported to the Procurator Fiscal and the Reporter. It does not represent all children who offend in Scotland. 

For many of the 400 children in this study (79 girls, 321 boys), their lives were

characterised by adversity, trauma, neglect, exposure to harmful behaviours by 

others, victimisation and exploitation (including criminal exploitation and sexual 

exploitation), often compounded by socioeconomic disadvantage. 

Areas of concern:

Findings indicated a number of areas of concern, including children’s educational attainment and attendance; children’s health and well-being, particularly for mental health, self-harming, substance misuse and bullying. A significant number of children 

experienced bereavement through the loss of a person(s) close to them. 

A number of children experienced harmful parental behaviour, including substance misuse and parental criminality, and had witnessed significant traumatic events, including exposure to aggression and domestic violence in the home. 

The majority of these children were also known to services, and had involvement with services, due to child concerns before they were 12 years old. For a fifth of children, their first service involvement was before they were one years old, for care and protection reasons. For the majority of children who were first referred to the Reporter, the most common first ground of referral was lack of parental care.

These findings paint a disquieting picture of the backgrounds and circumstances many of these children have faced, highlighting the difficult life situations they have experienced. 

Key findings:

  • Deprivation: 63% of children had home addresses in neighbourhoods classified as deprived. 
  • Victims of parental neglect: almost half of children (48%) were reported as being victims of parental neglect.
  • Victims of parental violence or aggression: a quarter of children (25%) were victims, and for similar numbers of children, there was a history of parental violence and/or aggression towards the child.
  • Parental substance misuse: More than a third of children had parents (mum, dad or both parents) who misused drugs and similar proportions had parents who misused alcohol.
  • Victims of bullying: almost a quarter of children had been bullied.
  • Education: there were concerns about educational attainment for 58% of children. For 59% of children, there were concerns about their attendance at school and 41% of children had been excluded from school at least once during their lives.
  • Disability: 19% of children were recorded as having a disability with social, emotional and behavioural disability being the most common type of disability for both boys and girls. 
  • Learning difficulties: almost a quarter of the children (23%) had a learning 
  • difficulty, with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) being the most common. Boys 
  • were twice as likely to have a learning difficulty than girls (13% girls and 26% 
  • boys).
  • Mental health: 32% of children were recorded as having mental health 
  • concerns (35% of girls and 31% of boys). Around a quarter of children were 
  • reported to have self-harmed, attempted suicide and/or displayed suicide 
  • ideation. Girls were twice as likely to have self-harmed, had suicide attempts 
  • and/or suicide ideation than boys (39% girls and 18% boys). 
  • Contact with services due to child concerns: 71% (n=283) of children had involvement with services due to child concerns before they were 12 years old.
  • Offences dealt with by the Reporter (standard offence referrals): 63% (n=189) of offence referrals were low gravity with this pattern of gravity of offence being similar at all ages (12-15 years). 12% (n=37) of offences were high gravity. 
  • Over half of these offences (52%) were committed in the community, followed by the child’s residential or foster placement (16%), and the child’s own home (10%). 
  • In 40% of cases (n=121) there were others involved in the offence with the child. Almost always this was other children/peers. However, 12% (n=15) also involved adults (those aged 18 years and above). 5% (n=16) of children were involved with family members in criminality.
  • For 74% (n=222) of children, the offence was part of a pattern of offending and/or antisocial behaviour, and this was known to the Reporter.
  • Jointly reported offences dealt with by the Procurator Fiscal or the Reporter: Children dealt with by the Procurator Fiscal tended to be older. 60% (n=26) were 15 years old. 
  • Most jointly reported offences happened in the community (64%), followed by someone else’s home (11%), or residential or foster care (9%).
  • In 63% of jointly reported cases, there were others involved with the child in the offence. Almost always this was other children and/or peers (67%, n=42), but 21% (n=13) of offences also involved adults. Fifteen children were involved with family members in criminality and/or they were directly involved in the offence.
  • The most common jointly reported charge types referred to the Reporter were vandalism (20%), sexual offences (19%) and assault (16%). Almost all charges related to housebreaking accounting for 21% (n=18) of charges were dealt with by the Procurator Fiscal.
  • Almost half (47%) of jointly reported cases were of high gravity in comparison with 12% (n=37) of standard offence referrals to the Reporter. More of those dealt with by the Procurator Fiscal were of high gravity. Proportionately more boys (51%, n=41) had committed high gravity offences than girls (30%, n=6).
  • For 70% (n=30) of the children dealt with by the Procurator Fiscal, their offence was part of a pattern of offending and/or antisocial behaviour.

Case studies:

The research report also includes some case studies:

Read Jenna’s story – page 33

Read Nathan’s story – page 67

Read Louise’s story – page 80

Read Ryan’s story – page 81

Read Connor’s story – page 84

Next steps:

The report will now be considered by the Scottish Government’s Age of Criminal Responsibility (ACR) Advisory Group.

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