Juvenile aid bureau: an evaluation of police involvement with juvenile offenders and child abuse in Queensland

Criminology Research Council grant ; (13/83)

This project resulted in the publication of two reports entitled 'The Police Role in Child Protection in Queensland: An Evaluation of the Juvenile Aid Bureau's Work in Child Protection 1980-83' and 'Juvenile Aid Bureau: An Evaluation of Police Work with Juveniles 1970-83'. The two reports were prepared by Dr Sally Leivesley, a private consultant.

The first study reported on child abuse in Queensland describing the epidemiology of child abuse in the State, indicators and characteristics of children and their abusing parents, and the Queensland Suspected Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) multi-disciplinary approach.

Results were based on an analysis of a sample of 400 out of 1,200 cases which came to notice 1980-83. Interviews and observations were also made of the police role in SCAN operations in Brisbane and other selected areas. A comprehensive study of the literature was also used to develop tables with over 600 indicators of child abuse (physical abuse, neglect, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and drug abuse).

The sample of 400 children showed that an active police response was evident in 23 per cent of cases that came to notice. Over 7,000 children in Queensland were estimated to be at risk of abuse each year and the figures on police involvement suggested that nearly 6,000 of these children were not receiving active investigation. Fifty-five per cent of children coming to notice were over the age of three, and in 85 per cent of cases the abuse was chronic. The patterns of reporting to police was mostly from SCAN multi-disciplinary teams rather than the community. Seventy-six per cent of referrals came from SCAN compared to 4 per cent of cases reported to police by neighbours and friends. A further 4 per cent came from the child, parent or relative.

Recommendations from the report were for the police to:

  1. change the structure of the Juvenile Aid Bureau to centrally co-ordinate and supervise child abuse responses throughout Queensland;
  2. develop a Statewide child abuse information system and to include infant deaths;
  3. change police SCAN procedures in hospitals and the community to maximise decisions by joint investigating teams of police and welfare workers and thus reduce the time spent in conference decision-making;
  4. use a Child Abuse Operations Manual to standardise police operations throughout the State;
  5. extend existing police training to provide in-service facilities and joint training with the Department of Children's Services.

The second report provided an evaluation of police work with juveniles 1970-83. The analysis focused on 18,000 records of juveniles who came to the notice of the Juvenile Aid Bureau 1970-80. Recidivism rates were assessed to evaluate the role of Juvenile Aid Bureau contacts with juveniles in relation to reoffending. Juvenile records were searched from the date of first contact with the Juvenile Aid Bureau to 30 June 1980 thereby providing a history of re-offending that ranged from a few months to 10 years.

A low recidivism rate was found for the juveniles with only 15 per cent having one or more court charges and of this group only 7.6 per cent were found to have three of more court charges. This finding suggests that the small core group of recidivists was very low in relation to the overall rate of juvenile offending.

An assessment was also made of the pattern of offences and characteristics of juveniles in relation to later offending. This assessment used an earlier internal police study of nearly 4,000 juveniles as well as the records of the 18,000 juveniles.

The recidivism study found a pattern of offending in relation to age. Thirteen and 14-year-olds were the most common offenders and there was a decline in offending once the juveniles turned 15 and 16. Juvenile offending appeared to be a problem of children who had gone to high school and for a few short years indulged in anti-social behaviour, principally stealing, before maturing and accepting the adult values of respect for property and person. It appears to be a short-lived phenomenon requiring a costly expenditure of police and welfare resources. However, Juvenile Aid Bureau results show that juvenile offending can be well contained without costly court procedures.

Differences in the sex of juvenile offenders were found to be negligible but there were significant differences in reasons for contact as a higher percentage of female offenders were involved in stealing and males had a higher rate of break and enter offences. Females were also much less likely to become hard core recidivists (3 per cent compared to 12 per cent of males). A relationship between reason for the juveniles first coming to notice and re-offending was found with truancy, assault, and behaviour problems. Stealing showed no later relationship with re-offending.

In addition to the study of juveniles, police officers from within the Juvenile Aid Bureau and other parts of the force were asked to suggest areas for further development and their replies are tabulated.

The recommendations from the study of juvenile offending covered:

  • The development of an administrative model of the Juvenile Aid Bureau.
  • Target programs giving priority to deployment of officers to schools and commercial areas based on numbers of juveniles aged 12-16.
  • Administrative planning at the State level for extension of Juvenile Aid Bureau positions to all areas and deployment on the basis of numbers of juveniles aged 12-16.
  • A juvenile information system using computerisation to reduce officers' time in completing forms, as well as providing central statistical information on juvenile offending.
  • Training on juvenile offending to be introduced early in police courses and included within in-service courses so that the philosophy of the Juvenile Aid Bureau is developed throughout the State.
  • internal research programs within the Police Department under guidance of a Research Committee to provide longitudinal information on the recidivism, and to develop prevention programs.