Children looked after who have come into contact with the law are some of the most vulnerable members of society.

The over-representation of care experienced young people and those from racially and ethnically minoritized groups in the criminal justice system have been considered as part of reviews led by Lord Laming (2016) and David Lammy MP (2017) respectively. However, there continues to be significant gaps in the evidence base notably in relation to those with experience of both the youth justice and care systems. Given the emphasis on children’s rights in Wales, this research seeks to identify where there are opportunities to transform the life chances through the provision of appropriate and timely multi-agency support at ‘crunch points’ whilst under the supervision of the youth offending service.


A mixed methods approach has been adopted for this feasibility which will combine participatory, arts-based approaches with young people, with use of data-linkage techniques and mathematical modelling. By incorporating the voices of those with varying degrees of contact with both systems within the research, there is an opportunity to contextualise the findings from the modelling. Crucially, and in keeping with the pro-children’s right approach being adopted, the mixed methods approach has been chosen to enable the young people to challenge our pre-conceptions as adults about how best to support them at difficult times.

Activities and Methods

Drawing upon data collected as part of the risk assessment process used by the youth justice system across England and Wales, supplemented by routinely collected data from health, education and social services, the research will employ novel statistical techniques to explore the relationship between a range of so called risk and protective factors to:

  • Understand how these factors interact and hence increase or decrease the likelihood of further offending for different sub-groups and as a result of ‘events’ (e.g. returning to court; receiving a formal diagnosis for mental health issue; starting treatment for a substance misuse issue; having to change school; moving home etc.). This will be achieved through linking to administrative data held within the SAIL Databank.
  • Specifically, in the case of children looked after, the project will seek to explore where there may be difference due to legal status, the setting in which they are accommodated and their age of entry into care.

The use of hierarchical modelling in a Bayesian framework to conduct the quantitative elements of the research builds upon the doctoral research undertaken by the PI with techniques being selected because (1) they lend themselves to analysis of complex data such as that arising from the Youth Justice Board’s risk assessment process, and (2) as they are not constrained in the same way as traditional approaches, there is more scope to segment the cohort and hence taken an intersectional approach. In this way, the evidence base about the various minority groups can be enhanced and hence support a more individualised practice.

By adopting this an ecological approach to the qualitative elements of the research it enables the views of participants can be appropriately heard. Their views on the types and timing of the support/services received will also inform the analysis plan for the quantitative element.

Overarching Aims

The study will investigate the extent to which a combination of analysis of routine data and the life experiences of those who have experienced ‘double-system contact’ can inform the development of a strategic multi-agency approach to support children in care through the youth justice system, and hence reduce the likelihood of further criminalisation.


There are four specific objectives, two of which are methodological in nature:

  1. Identify ways in which to minimise the negative impact that double-system contact has on the life chances of this vulnerable group. It is anticipated that the learning will also have wider benefits with respect to how services provide timely support to children and young people
  2. To evidence where there are further opportunities for joined up working between the youth justice system, social services, education and health services
  3. To explore the methodological challenges associated with linking data from the youth offending service with other routinely collected data prior to seeking to extend the research by using national datasets
  4. To demonstrate the benefits of applying Bayesian approaches to enhance our understandings of complex social issues and inform evidence-based policy


This is an ongoing study.

Lead Person

Principal InvestigatorDr. Helen Hodges

Academic Staff

ResearcherDr Anthony Charles – School of Social Sciences, Swansea University
ResearcherDr Kevin Fahey – School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham
Research AssociateAlaina Turner
Related partnersSAIL Databank
FundersHealth and Care Research Wales