Breaking through the bars - The importance of early intervention with child offenders - Nicola Atwool (Office of Children's Commissioner)

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  • 1. Breaking Through the Bars – The Importance of Early Intervention with Child Offenders Nicola Atwool Principal Advisor
  • 2. Overview
    • Introduction
    • Child offenders - characteristics
    • Current response to child offending
    • Alternate explanation based on attachment
    • Effective intervention – an Integrated Framework
    With Permission Taonga Education Centre Photographs Used
  • 3. Characteristics of child offenders
    • A small but distinct group
    • “ From kohanga or kindy on he has defied adults, lied, stolen maybe set fires, hit other children, is cruel to animals, verbally abuses all who frustrate him, bullies, intimidates peers, siblings and as we heard recently teachers and other adults as well.” (Professor John Werry)
  • 4. Red Flags
    • History of serious antisocial acts
    • Regular use of substances
    • Hyperactivity and impulsivity
    • History of aggression
    • Being male
    • (Kaye McLaren, 2007)
  • 5. Risk Factors – Family
    • Socioeconomic adversity
    • Parental change and conflict
    • Lack of supervision
    • Lack of warmth and affection
    • Harsh discipline and abuse
    • Parental criminal/antisocial behaviour, substance abuse, young mother,unemployment
  • 6. Risk Factors – Individual
    • Poor vocabulary and communication
    • Lower than average IQ
    • Poor literacy skills
    • High level of novelty and thrill seeking
  • 7. Risk Factors - Social
    • Peer rejection
    • Deviant peers
    • Community norms and levels of crime
    Photograph used with permission Kawerau South School
  • 8. Risk Factors
    • Cover multiple domains
    • Children’s social maps
    • Cultural blueprints of what is normal, what is obvious, and what is impossible
    • When children are labelled as offenders or severe conduct disorder they become the problem
  • 9. Current Responses
    • Behaviour becomes the focus
    • Emphasis on management and control
    • Less attention on causes
    • Calls for retribution and punishment
    Photographs Used With Permission Taonga Education Centre
  • 10. Current Response
    • Frustration that children under 14 cannot be charged
    • Young Offenders (Serious Crimes) Bill
    • Flies in the face of evidence that the most severe interventions are the least effective
    • Based on an assumption that children are the same as adults
    Photographs Used With Permission Taonga Education Centre
  • 11. Current Response
    • Current provisions complicated and not readily implemented
    • Front-line Police reluctant to become involved
    • Family Court interaction infrequent - lack of specialist knowledge
    • Amendment of CYP & F Act needed
  • 12. Current Response
    • Investigation by CYF focuses on care and protection
    • Lack of attention to environmental drivers of offending behaviour
    • Families well known  sense of inevitability about child offending
    • Too little too late
  • 13. Current Response
    • Offending behaviour requires specific response
    • If children come into care their behaviour may prove difficult  placement disruption and multiple placements
    • Too many children fall into the gaps
  • 14. Current Response
    • Justice system ends up punishing those who are victims of social and economic circumstances
    • Need for shift in emphasis from individual responsibility to social responsibility
  • 15. Alternate view of the origins of offending behaviour
    • Children begin life entirely dependent
    • Quality of relationships provides the framework for exponential learning and development in the early years
    • Attachment provides foundation for child’s perception of self, others and the world
  • 16. Brain Development
    • Not complete at birth
    • Rapid growth over first three years
    • Sequential and use-dependent
    • Environment is crucial and primary caregiver is is the major provider of environmental cues
    • Combination of differentiation and integration
    • Self-regulation
    • Reflective function
  • 17. Patterns of Attachment
    • Ainsworth identified three patterns:
      • Secure
      • Insecure ambivalent
      • Insecure avoidant
    • Additional categories
      • Avoidant/ambivalent (Crittenden)
      • Disorganised (Main, Kaplan & Cassidy)
  • 18. Patterns of Attachment
    • Represent internal working models or cognitive maps shaping views of self, others and the world
    • Secure provides the context for optimal development
    • Insecure represent infant’s capacity to adapt to less than optimal environment
    • Disorganised - greatest vulnerability
    • Unlocks the secrets of how people do bad things
  • 19. Secure Attachment Pattern
    • Self perceived as worthy
    • Others perceived as reliable and available
    • When faced with threat respond with affect and cognition
    • Neural integration is promoted
    • Child achieves adaptive balance
    • Primary strategy in new situations is mastery
  • 20. Avoidant
    • Develops in the context of unresponsive and rejecting relationship
    • Self is perceived as unworthy
    • Others are unavailable and hurtful
    • Environment is threatening
    • Self reliant from an early age
    • Affective responses deactivated and over-regulated
    • Cognitive strategies are amplified
  • 21. Avoidant
    • Dominant approach is pragmatic problem-solving
    • Relationships not regarded as important
    • May be underlying anger and resentment
    • Dominant strategy is control
    • Reflective function is impaired and mental state of others is likely to be shunned
    • Limited capacity for empathy
  • 22. Ambivalent
    • Develops in response to inconsistent, unreliable and at times intrusive responses from attachment figure
    • Uncertainty about the worthiness of self
    • Others are perceived to be unreliable, over-bearing and insensitive
    • Environment is unpredictable and chaotic
    • Cognitive responses are deactivated because they are experienced as ineffective
  • 23. Ambivalent
    • Affective responses are amplified
    • Self-regulation is not achieved
    • Helplessness and resentment dominate
    • Dominant strategy is manipulation
    • Heightened focus on internal state of self with impaired capacity to reflect on the internal state of others
  • 24. Disorganised
    • Arises in situations of neglect and abuse
    • Child faced with task of maintaining proximity to person who is source of threat
    • Caregiver frightening or frightened
    • Self is perceived to be unworthy
    • Others are frightening or helpless
    • Environment is chaotic and dangerous
  • 25. Disorganised
    • Hyper-arousal impairs cognitive development
    • Affective responses dominate
    • Child is fearful and reactive
    • Play is inhibited
    • May develop compulsive compliance
    • Dominant strategy is survival
  • 26. Disorganised
    • Capacity to reflect on own internal state is limited, may lack the ability to identify feeling states
    • Hyper-vigilant of caregiver cues and internal state of other
    • Reflective capacity significantly impaired
    • Significant problems by adolescence
  • 27. Link with Resilience
    • Four crucial factors:
      • Individual attributes
      • Family support
      • Community support, person or agency
      • Cultural connection
    • Resilience is not an isolated individual characteristic
    • Secure and consistent attachment facilitates resilience across all four domains
  • 28. Patterns of Attachment and Resilience
    • Secure at an advantage - positive expectations of self and others, access to supportive adults and connections beyond family
    • Avoidant and ambivalent may lack self-confidence, have low self-esteem and difficulty negotiating relationships, but do have coping strategies
    • Disorganised, have no coping strategy and are the most vulnerable
  • 29. Summary
    • Internal working models formed in the early years are reinforced by children’s experience in the world beyond home
    • Insecure and disorganised likely to encounter rejection and censure from peers, teachers and other adults
    • Negative outcomes are not inevitable
    • Early and effective intervention is the key
  • 30. Way forward
    • OCC is proposing an Integrated Framework to provide support at the beginning of a child’s life, rather than ambulances at the bottom of the cliff
    • Timely cost-effective intervention
    • Systematic and co-ordinated approach that reaches across sectors and
    • Prevents children from falling through the gaps
  • 31. Te Ara Tukutuku nga Whanaungatanga o nga Tamariki
    • Universal application
    • First 18 years
    • Whole child approach
      • Physical
      • Emotional
      • Cognitive
      • Social
    • Capitalise on good start some children will get and ensure intensive support for families who need this
    Photograph Used With Permission Taonga Education Centre
  • 32. Weaving Pathways to Well-being
    • Professional co-ordination and shared frame of reference
    • Shared information
    • Early intervention
    • Develop and build on strengths
    • Child-centred and family focused
    • Partnership with families
    Photograph Used With Permission Taonga Education Centre
  • 33. Key Transition Points
    • Pre-birth
    • At time of entry to school
    • When moving from primary school
    • Prior to departure from secondary school
    Photograph used with permission Kawerau South School Young People’s Reference Group Photographs Used With Permission Taonga Education Centre
  • 34. Application to Child Offending
    • Early identification of families with multiple risk factors reduces likelihood of child developing severe behavioural difficulty
    • Key worker can ensure engagement with and co-ordination of appropriate services
    • If family fails to engage or is unable to make changes, formal intervention could be initiated before child has suffered repeated exposure to those experiences that contribute to negative outcomes
  • 35. OCC Vision The rights of every child and young person are recognised and each enjoys good health, education, safety and economic wellbeing ‘ Titiro Whakatau Ano’ - Thomas Lauterbach