Absconding from care: The criminalisation of missing children

Emma Colvin, Katherine McFarlane, Alison Gerard, Andrew McGrath

Research output: Contribution to conference (non-published works)Abstract


In Australia and internationally, children in out–of-home care (OOHC) are significantly over-represented in the criminal justice system. Our research sought to understand the underlying causes of the cohort's involvement in the criminal justice system. This paper presents qualitative data with 41 residential care and criminal justice professionals interviewed between 2014-16 in regional and metropolitan New South Wales, Australia. We interviewed key frontline professionals – NSW Police Force, Juvenile Justice officers, defence lawyers and non-government OOHC organisations on their perceptions of what drove the cohort's over-representation in the criminal justice system and what interventions might arrest the trend. A key theme emerging from the research was the number of children absconding from care and the way in which the system responded to these children. International research has demonstrated that children absconding from care placements are generally viewed by police and carers as problematic. Our research not only confirms this but also identifies that the particular reporting systems in place designed to protect children actually serve to further compound the issue by conflating absconding with delinquency. This can lead to devastating outcomes for some children, as seen in the police failure to act on child sexual exploitation/trafficking in Rotherham, UK. Our research has clearly established that the institutional responses to absconding from OOHC contributes to the cohort's overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages1
Publication statusPublished - 29 Nov 2016
Externally publishedYes
EventANZSOC2016 - The 29th Annual Conference of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology: Horizon Criminology - Hobart, Hobart, Australia
Duration: 29 Nov 20162 Dec 2016


ConferenceANZSOC2016 - The 29th Annual Conference of the Australian and New Zealand Society of Criminology


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