Troubled teens in custody fare better if they have contact with a caring adult: B.C. study
Most come from difficult backgrounds involving death or trauma
A survey of B.C. youth in trouble with the law finds that those who feel the support of an adult while in custody are more likely to be optimistic about pursuing school or work when they are released and not breaking the law again.
The report, released by the McCreary Centre Society, surveyed 114 youth aged 12 to 19 while in custody between August 2012 and January 2013 in this province.
Annie Smith, the society’s executive director, said youth in custody often deal with a difficult family life in their early years. The report’s findings show that helping vulnerable youth deal with the trauma they endure at a young age can improve their chances of succeeding after they are released from custody.
“Young people who end up in custody have often suffered significant trauma, including the death of a close family member or friend, suicide within their family, parental involvement with the justice system, homelessness, and unbelievably high rates of abuse,” said Smith in a statement.
Eighty seven per cent of youth who were surveyed had at least one person who they were close to die, with 34 per cent losing someone to violence, 32 per cent to suicide and 30 per cent to overdose.
Seventy per cent of youth who were in custody also had a family member who has been in trouble with the law. For 29 per cent of youth, one of their parents was criminally involved, the survey found.
The McCreary report compared the data to survey results from the 2008 B.C. Adolescent Health Survey.
When compared to data from youth in mainstream schools, youth in custody were less likely to live with parents, more likely to be in government care and more likely to go to bed hungry, according to the survey.
Sixty-five per cent of youth in custody in 2012 had lived in a foster home, group home or on a Youth Agreement at some point in their lives, the report found. Thirty-two per cent were living in government care when they were taken into custody.
Sixty-five per cent reported at least one health problem, with 48 per cent reporting that they had a behavioural problem and 26 per cent reporting a mental or emotional health problem.
However, the study did find that youth who felt that an adult connected to the custody centre cared about them were more likely to report better physical and mental health, to think this would be their last time in custody, and to have positive plans for pursuing school or work when released.
Youth who were visited by family and friends while in custody were 92 per cent more likely to report feeling they were in good health. Seventy-four per cent were more likely to think this was their last time in custody, while 75 per cent of youth saw themselves having a job in five years.
While the survey showed promising results, Smith said Aboriginal youth are still overrepresented in the custody system.
The report, however, did find that almost all Aboriginal youth in custody in Prince George found the programming in that centre to be helpful.
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