Jessica Edwards, Barnardo’s senior policy advisor for childhood harms, talks to us about the Victims and Prisoners Bill and the rights of young people who’ve been victims of crimes, like exploitation.
The Victims and Prisoners Bill was recently introduced to Parliament by the Government. Amongst other reforms, the bill will introduce measures related to victims and witnesses of criminal conduct, including for children and young people who have been victims of crime. Being a victim or witness of a crime is traumatic, especially if you’re a child, but understanding what support you are entitled to and having access to that support can make navigating the criminal justice system a little better and help with your recovery.
What rights do children and young people who are victims of crime have?
All people who are victims of crimes, including children and young people, have rights. In England and Wales, the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime sets out these rights and the minimum level of service that victims should receive. The Code of Practice has four overarching principles:
All victims should be provided with information to help them understand the criminal justice process;
All victims should be able to access services which support them (including specialist services);
All victims should have the opportunity to make their views heard in the criminal justice process; and
All victims should be able to challenge decisions which have a direct impact on them.
Some of these rights are dependent on whether the victim has reported the crime to the police or not. But all victims do have the right to be provided with information to help them understand the criminal justice process, and to be able to access services which support them – whether or not they have reported the crime to the police.
Currently, the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime exists as guidance to criminal justice agencies. Through the Victims and Prisoners Bill, the Government want to embed the Code of Practice – and the rights for victims of crime – into law.
How could the government better protect and support victims of crime?
Experiencing crimes such as exploitation, which is a form of abuse, can have a life-changing impact on a child, which can lead to further physical harm, trauma and have life-long implications. Services that specifically support child victims of exploitation and other harms play a vital role in supporting and safeguarding children, and evidence shows that access to these support services can reduce the risk of future harm.
Barnardo’s senior policy advisor for childhood harms
Who gets help can be a postcode lottery, meaning that many children are left without any support.
Even though the Victims and Prisoners Bill seeks to improve support for victims, including embedding the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime into law, it does not change this as it currently stands. There is no inclusion in the bill of a duty on local authorities to set up specific services for children and young people who have been affected by exploitation, and other harms.
We think that the bill as it’s currently written is a missed opportunity to support and safeguard children who have been the victims of crimes and so we are calling on the Government to make sure that a duty for local authorities to provide specific services to children and young people who’ve experienced exploitation is included in the Victims and Prisoners Bill.
How do we support children and young people who have experienced exploitation and other kinds of abuse or harm?
We have supported children and young people who have experienced harm, abuse and exploitation for more than 30 years. Last year, we supported more than 6,000 children and their families from across the UK through our abuse and exploitation services.
This includes supporting children through our specialist services, which offer therapeutic support, counselling, and advocacy support – including helping children and their families to navigate the criminal justice process. The vital support that we provide is tailored to children’s needs, and our frontline staff work throughout the year to help children and young people come to terms with trauma, to understand what healthy relationships look like, to build confidence and self-esteem, and to realise none of this is their fault. We support children to feel safe, listened to, and believed in.
As well as directly supporting children, we also provide training to professionals like social workers and teachers to help them to spot the signs of exploitation and other kinds of abuse, and so they can take action to help children that they need.
We also work to influence the Government and other decision-makers to make the United Kingdom a safer place for children and young people.