The Chief Victims Advisor to Government states that the effectiveness of a justice system depends on the trust, confidence, engagement, and participation of victims.
The Victims Code of Rights sets out how people can expect to be treated when they are a victim of crime in New Zealand.
For the youth justice system, some victims’ rights are also expressed in the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989 (‘the Act’), including the s208 youth justice principle that:
i. in the determination of measures for dealing with offending by children or young persons, consideration should be given to the interests and views of any victims of the offending (for example, by encouraging the victims to participate in the processes…for dealing with offending); and
ii. any measures should have proper regard for the interests of any victims of the offending and the impact of the offending on them.
Research suggests that justice and recidivism outcomes are better when victims participate in justice processes, particularly restorative justice processes.
Victims of a crime committed by a child or young person are entitled under s251 of the Act to attend their youth justice family group conference (FGC). This gives the victim an opportunity to have their say on how the crime has affected them, and to help the child or young person face up to what they have done.
However, the level of victim participation in youth justice FGCs is relatively low. For example, a study of a sample of ‘intention-to-charge’ FGCs held in 2019 showed that only 21% of the 360 victims physically attended the FGC, 28% provided a submission, and 51% did not participate in the FGC process.
Little is known however about the characteristics of victims of crime by children aged 10 to 13, and their rates of FGC participation, and this research addresses that gap. The information can be used to target victim subgroups with low FGC participation levels.
The focus of this report is on the victims associated with youth justice FGCs for children who offended when aged 10 to 13. These are FGCs convened by a youth justice coordinator under s247(a) of the Act following a referral from, and consultation with, a police officer who believes the child is “in need of care and protection” on the ground specified in s14(1)(e) of the Act. This is where the child has “committed an offence or offences of sufficient number, nature, or magnitude to cause serious concern for their well-being”.
Researchers from the Oranga Tamariki Evidence Centre undertook an analysis using a base sample of all FGCs that were held between 1 July 2020 and 30 June 2021 for children who offended when aged 10 to 13. Police and Oranga Tamariki FGC-related documents and case-notes in CYRAS5 were manually reviewed to capture information on the characteristics of victims, the offences committed against them, and their relationships to the children who offended.
All victims were coded separately, and a total of 580 victims were associated with 114 FGCs for children. This is a mean of five and median of four victims associated with each FGC. The 114 FGCs involved 107 distinct children, with seven children having two FGCs within the year that involved different offences and victims.
When the 580 offences with victims were committed, 2% of the children were aged 10, 7% were aged 11, 22% were aged 12, and 69% were aged 13.
The length of time between offences being committed and FGCs being held differs from case to case. On average, the 114 FGCs were held 4.2 months after the offences were committed, and for around one in five FGCs at least six months had elapsed. Some of the variation occurs because offences are not always reported to police straightaway, and on occasion it may take some time for police to identify the offender. Further, once police make a referral to a youth justice co-ordinator, s249 of the Act allows for up to three weeks for the FGC to be convened (organised) and a further month, at most, for it to be held.
Some children therefore had birthdays after they committed the offences and before the FGCs were held. When the 114 FGCs were held:
- most children (around three in four) were male, around one in five were female, and the remainder were of another gender
- 76% were Māori, a further 11% were both Māori and Pacific peoples, another 6% were Pacific peoples, and 7% were European
- none of the children were aged 10, 5% were aged 11, 13% were aged 12, 55% were aged 13, 24% were aged 14, and 3% were aged 15.
When reviewing cases in CYRAS it quickly became apparent that children often offended when in the company of other children, young people, or young adults. The researchers therefore decided to capture information from police ‘Summary of Facts’ documents on the numbers of co-offenders or associates who were present with the child when he or she offended, and if available, their ages.
Victims of offending by children:
The research showed that the vast majority of victims were adults and were individual people rather than businesses or other organisations. Victims who were individuals were more often male than female (45% and 33% of all victims respectively), while 80% were adults and 19% were under 18 years of age. Organisations that were victims (15% of the total) were mostly retail businesses, including grocery stores, department stores, specialty stores, petrol stations, and shopping malls. 4% of all victims were schools and 3% were local and central government organisations (including councils, Oranga Tamariki, and NZ Police).
Our analysis of the types of crime being committed by children revealed that almost half of the victims experienced an offence involving their motor vehicle, with other victims experiencing burglary, property damage, shoplifting, assault, and a variety of other offences. Stolen vehicle offences accounted for 48% of the 450 offences against individual victims, but only 4% of the 130 offences against entities. Nearly three-quarters of the offences against businesses/organisations and schools were shoplifting/other theft or burglary.
Relationship between children and victims (available for 447 of the 450 individual victims):
Most (87%) of the 447 victims did not have a relationship to the child prior to the offending, whereas 13% did. In 9% of cases, the victim and child were known to each other as friends, acquaintances, or they attended the same school. In 4% of cases, the child offended against a whānau member (most commonly a sibling) or a caregiver.
Peer group influences (available for 553 of the total 580 victims):
Three-quarters (76%) of the 553 victims were victimised by the child in the presence of one or more co-offenders or associates. This included 30% of victimisations where 3 or more other people were present with the child. Peer groups, including older peers, appear to be a significant factor associated with children’s offending.
Victim participation in FGCs:
The research also looked at victim participation at FGCs, with only 10% of victims attending themselves or sending a representative. A third of victims provided a submission to be read at the FGC, but 57 percent of victims did not participate in any way.
This research shows us that victim participation at FGCs is lower amongst certain groups than others, with differences existing by gender, type of victim (for example individuals vs businesses and organisations) and the type of crime.
This research will inform ongoing work around supporting victims of youth crime and encouraging more victims to participate in FGC processes.