Scotland’s response to children in conflict with the law: What data exists?

Wherever possible, children who come into conflict with the law should be kept out of the adult criminal justice system and ideally diverted from formal systems altogether. Where this is not possible, the child’s needs should be met through the Children’s Hearings System. Despite this welfare system having been in place for several years, many children in Scotland get drawn into the adult criminal justice system. Due to the dual system approach, as well as the legalities around the definition of a ‘child’ in Scotland, the processes can be complex and difficult to understand. The Child’s Journey and Journey through Justice are online interactive resources designed to help children, their families, and professionals understand the journey through the justice system.

As there are two separate – albeit linked – systems that children can become involved in. It can also be a challenge to monitor our national response to children who come into conflict with the law, and to identify whether we are responding in their best interests and meeting their developmental needs. Information is currently gathered by several organisations that children in conflict with the law may encounter – Police Scotland, the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration, Children and Families Social Work, Secure Care Services, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service, Justice Social Work, and the Scottish Prison Service. A lot of the available information is analysed and published by the Scottish Government. However, within the Scottish Government, this information spans different directorates/teams and is contained within different statistical collections.

A further challenge in accessing information on our response to children in conflict with the law is that the age categories used within the various published reports differ, and children (those under 18 years of age) are sometimes grouped with young people (those under 21 years old). Additionally, on occasion, the information on children is not contained within the main report but needs to be accessed through additional tables in the supporting files.

In response to these issues, CYCJ has published a recently updated paper by Gill McCallum that collates the regularly published official statistics in Scotland, which are known to CYCJ, in relation to children in conflict with the law. It documents what data exists, where and when it is published, as well as providing the available data since 2016. We hope this helps to make the information more accessible to individuals and organisations.

This was updated in April 2024.

Download Scotland’s response to children in conflict with the law: What data exists?

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University of Strathclyde
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