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Hearing the voice of looked after children: challenging current assumptions and knowledge about pathways into offending

Anne-Marie Day (University of Salford, Salford, UK)

Safer Communities

ISSN: 1757-8043

Article publication date: 10 July 2017




The purpose of this paper is to assess the early findings of research which aims to hear the voice of looked after children about their pathways into offending and subsequent entry into the youth justice system, and the implications that this may have for policy and practice.


One-to-one semi-structured interviews have taken place with 19 looked after children, who are also subject to youth justice supervision. The interviews have been analysed to identify emerging themes, using broadly grounded approaches.


Three important findings arise from the interviews with the participants. First, children in care are being labelled and removed from the mainstream due to problematic behaviours, rather than searching for the underlying cause of the behaviour. Second, significant anger and frustration is expressed towards residential care staff and the child’s social worker, due to several reasons relating to the institutional environment within residential care, and a lack of trust for those professionals with whom control over the child’s life rests. Finally, the children describe feeling powerless whilst in care, and within this context, the peer group plays a crucial role within the lives of the children interviewed.

Research limitations/implications

The findings are based on the subjective views of 19 interviewees. The sample is not representative, and has not been compared with other forms of data. Rather, it provides the reader with the perspectives of some of the most challenging and vulnerable children in the youth justice system, and places their voice at centre stage.

Practical implications

This paper points to several challenges within current youth justice and social work practice which led to the interviewees feeling disempowered and ambivalent about their future. A number of recommendations for policy and practice are made in the concluding sections of the paper which may assist those in policy and practice.


The voice of the looked after child who is also subject to youth justice has not been given centre stage within research to date. The findings are based on this voice and offer a different perspective about a looked after child’s pathways into offending. A number of potential implications for policy and practice, which could be considered and implemented to deal with this problem, are then discussed.



Day, A.-M. (2017), "Hearing the voice of looked after children: challenging current assumptions and knowledge about pathways into offending", Safer Communities, Vol. 16 No. 3, pp. 122-133.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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