Young people residing in homes operated by Wundarra Services were involved in 503 criminal incidents in 2015. Photo: Stock image
Young people residing in homes operated by Wundarra Services were involved in 503 criminal incidents in 2015. Photo: Stock image AlexRaths

503 criminal incidents in a year for juvenile care residents

JUVENILE residents in one of the Coffs Coast's largest providers of out-of-home care are being charged with hundreds of criminal offences a year.

Young people residing in homes operated by Wundarra Services were involved in 503 criminal incidents in 2015 in what police describe as "a serious concern."

Documents obtained by The Coffs Coast Advocate reveal the range and extent of the charges, which included 55 apprehended violence orders, 23 domestic violence offences and eight sexual offences, including six against children.

Despite approaches for comment by The Advocate this week Wundarra Services, a State Government-funded organisation, did not reply.

Commenting on the statistics, Coffs-Clarence Crime Manager Detective Inspector Darren Jameson said strong supervision was required to guide young people away from criminal behaviour.

"We are seeing a greater than the state average of young people being placed into the judicial system, and this is due to the serious nature of the crimes being committed or the young person not being eligible for actions under the Young Offenders Act," he said.

"Young people require strong supervision and guidance, and when this breaks down, or is not provided, they are at risk of a lifetime of crime."

Wundarra Services is contracted by the Department of Family and Community Services to provide residential care to young people who are unable to live at home.

The agency received $2.3million from the State Government in the 2014/15 financial year and has obligations under the Office of the Children's Guardian to provide protection and safety for its residents.

A Department of Family and Community Services spokeswoman said the department was working with police to manage the needs of children in care.

But despite ongoing liaison between police with Wundarra Services, Insp Jameson said crime associated with the youths had not reduced.

"Some young people, through support coupled with strong family guardianship values, can disassociate themselves from crime, and we see that between the ages of 15 to 18," he said.

"The other path sees them enter into a lifetime of crime as they either don't have or do not accept the ethical grounding to become resilient against committing crime."

Statistics were obtained through a Government Information Public Access Act application and include incidents of proactive policing, including 99 bail compliance checks on young people charged with offences.


How to address offending by the 'most vulnerable' in society?

LINKS between the juvenile justice and child welfare systems needs to be addressed through strategies focused on the behavioural issues of offenders.

That's the opinion of headspace youth services co-ordinator Gary Maher - one of many support workers who engage with youth on the Coffs Coast.

Mr Maher said young people in residential care were among "the most vulnerable in society" and factors including past-trauma needed to be addressed when understanding criminal behaviour.

"In many cases those kids have gone through countless foster homes in areas that are not in their own community," he said.

"They have often been through neglect, abuse - they are the last line of defence."

Mr Maher said reasons children come into contact with the juvenile justice system are complex and multiple-factorial.

"Some of the people referred to us have drug and alcohol related issues, but generally I think people end up in those situations through a variety of factors," he said.

The relationship between children entering a residential facility and interacting with the criminal justice system has been the subject of various studies across Australia.

Research undertaken by the University of Adelaide last year studied the cases of 300 young people living in residential care.

Researcher Catia Malvaso said findings revealed behavioural factors were the clearest indicator in predicting offending.

"We looked at placement type, the age at time of placement, the number of placement moves and none of those were significant factors in offender behaviour," she said.

"It's something that should be looked at it in terms of programs that can help young people."