Missing from the classroom and in court

Research shows education can provide real protection against falling into a life of crime. Photo: SuppliedAlmost 40 per cent of Victorian children charged with criminal offences are not enrolled at school, new research has found.

Children’s Court president Judge Amanda Chambers said magistrates were frustrated about the large number of young people, particularly boys, who were not in school when they appeared in court.

“Nothing was being done,” she said. “There was no sense of urgency about what was a crisis for the young men appearing in this court.”

The new figures were included in a Victoria University evaluation of an initiative that connects young people with education and training when they appear before the criminal division of the Children’s Court. It found that 43 per cent of clients had not attended a single day of school in the previous month, and 38 per cent had been out of school for more than six months. One 15-year-old boy had been out of school for more than two years.

Judge Chambers said education provided “real protection” against crime, and saved money down the track.

“Incarceration isn’t the answer. Our focus is on rehabilitating them,” she said.

“It’s unfortunate they have an interaction with the court but the positive is that this initiative provides an opportunity … to bring education back in. I wish there was more happening earlier on.”

The Education Justice Initiative, which began in September last year, is funded by the Education Department and managed by Parkville College, a school which teaches young people in custody.

Staff have worked closely with 103 young people in court, helping them contact education providers to determine the best option. They then help the young person set up interviews, which hopefully leads to enrolment.

Many of the clients are from disruptive households or live in out-of-home care. Seventy per cent had attended four or more schools, and many had been suspended or expelled.

The report said that warnings and suspensions issued by schools often discouraged students from attending.

Report author Kitty te Riele​ said young people who were disengaged with school had more time on their hands, which could lead to criminal behaviour.

Living in poverty, being in out-of-home care, and living in disruptive households can also lead to disengagement from education and criminal behaviour.

“Because their life is quite disruptive, and they may not have the family to support them, getting back to school is not always straightforward.”

The Victoria University associate professor said schools were sometimes reluctant to enrol young people who had a brush with the law.

“Sometimes it takes a fair bit of time to get schools on board,” she said.

The evaluation said there was evidence the program helped divert young people away from a custodial sentence. It was likely to also reduce recidivism.

All of the clients involved in the initiative were willing to engage with education, and 75 per cent reconnected with education.

The Age revealed last year that 10,000 vulnerable children were dropping out of Victorian high schools, training and apprenticeships every year.

Victorian students must complete year 10 and then have to remain in full-time education, training or employment until they turn 17.

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