The Child, the Family and the Young Offender

Home Office (1965) The child, the family and the young offender Cmnd 2742 London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office

This brief White Paper outlined the new Labour Government’s proposals for reforming the ways in which minors were dealt with under the law (at the time the age of majority was still 21). It drew on Crime – a Challenge to us all (Labour Party Study Group, 1964) but in some respects went further. Today its significance is in setting the context for the debates that went on before the publication of the next White Paper Children in trouble (Home Office, 1968).

Key points

  • Family support is the key to reducing delinquency.
  • All young people under 21 should be dealt with differently from adults.
  • Children under 16 should be dealt with in ways which remove any stigma of criminality.
  • Young people 16-21 years old should be dealt with by youth courts, separately from adult courts.
  • Wherever possible, children under 16 years old should be dealt with through voluntary agreements brokered by family councils.
  • Family courts should only be used where such voluntary agreements cannot be made.
  • Most disposals would involve short-term interventions; long-term disposals in family courts would be to the care of the local authority and in youth courts to imprisonment.
  • The welfare principle should be retained.
  • There should be statutory after-care.


In Chapter I Introduction, the White Paper notes the reports that have tried to address the issues related to the increase in crime (Committee on Children and Persons, 1960; Home Office, 1962; Royal Commission on the Police, 1962; Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders, 1959; Committee on Children and Persons, 1964) along with the report produced by the Labour Party Study Group (1964). It stresses that the prevention and treatment of juvenile delinquency must start with the family.

In Chapter II Family support, it outlines the history of family support from the Children Act 1948 through Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1963 to the proposals for a Family Service made by the Labour Party Study Group.

In Chapter III Young offenders and children and young persons in need of care, protection and control, it notes that there are special arrangements for some young people over 10 and under 17 to ensure their care, protection and control or to deal with an offence but that the ordinary courts deal with young people over 17. It suggests that there should be special arrangements for children and young people from 10 to 16 years-old and for young people 16 to 21 years-old.

In Section A Children and Young Persons under 16, it notes that, though juvenile courts had been introduced in 1906, they still retained the stigma of criminality. Where the facts are not in dispute, the issue is treatment, parents are not required to accept responsibility and its orders are inflexible to a child’s changing needs.

The White Paper proposes to empower local authorities, in consultation with family councils and parents, to carry out a social enquiry and through discussion seek an agreement with parents; if no agreement can be reached, the matter should be referred to a family court. The family court would be able to make any of the existing orders except that long-term treatment would be an order placing the child in the care of the local authority.

There would be observation and assessment centres to advise family councils and to take on the functions of remand homes and classifying schools; however, the power to send very difficult children to remand centres would be retained.

In summary, the options would be:

  • an agreement with the family council for compensation by the parents,
  • a fine by the family court,
  • an attendance centre order which might be made by a family council or court,
  • a supervision order,
  • short-term training, similar to that received in a Junior Detention Centre,
  • long-term training, in the care of the local authority with approved schools taken over by local authorities.

The right to trial by jury for 14-16 year olds would be abolished; it had been abolished for 10-14 year olds in 1932. Children and young people charged with homicide would still be sent to the assizes.

The consequent enlargement of local authority children’s services would require an additional 1,000 social workers, including probation officers transferring over.

In Section B Courts for dealing with young persons, the White Paper proposes that the family courts would be special magistrates courts responsible for all matters to do with under 16s plus adoption, consent to marriage and affiliation orders for under 21s.

There would be young offenders courts for 16-21 year olds except for offences carrying over a 14 year sentence if committed by an adult or when the young person has pleaded not guilty. These would sit at separate times from ordinary and family courts and there would be appeals to quarter sessions if presided over by lay magistrates or to the Court of Criminal Appeal if presided over by a judge. Any quarter sessions dealing with young people under 21 would sit at different times with a special panel of justices.

In Section C Treatment of Offenders between the ages of 16 and 21, the White Paper says there would be no change to non-custodial sentences. Custodial sentences of up to six months could be given by a lay magistrate and of up to three years by a judge. The three custodial sentences would be:

  • short term detention for three to six months, similar to a Junior Detention Centre,
  • youth training centre for nine months to two years,
  • long-term training, that is, imprisonment.

The welfare principle would be retained and remand centres would remain. Youth Training Centres would come from the merger of Borstals and senior approved schools and Young Offender Institutions would be used for sentences of over two years.

There would be statutory after-care of one year after short-term detention and of two years after longer periods.

In Chapter IV General, it stresses that children under 16 would be outside the ambit of the courts and the trials and treatment of 16-21 year-olds would be separate from ordinary criminal courts. The welfare of young people would include firm discipline and constructive treatment.

Voluntary services would be maintained and strengthened through their merger into a comprehensive system because it was important not to lose valuable voluntary effort. The Home Office would be responsible for the system.

Chapter V Summary, contains a summary of the proposals.


The White Paper starts from the disease model of juvenile delinquency which Carpenter (1853) had set out over a century earlier, a model which was soon to be challenged by Rutter (1971) who found that anti-social behaviour was most associated with family discord and that reducing children’s unhappiness was the most effective way of reducing their anti-social behaviour.

In the context of a disease model, the purpose of observation and assessment centres became assessment of the extent to which the disease had spread and how it might be treated, an approach which Herman Nohl had criticised as long ago as 1926 (Winkler, 2009).

However, at the time Freudian explanations for behaviour dominated child care and behaviourist explanations were the challenging newcomer; social psychological, cognitive and social systems explanations were yet to influence child care. So pathologising the child rather than looking for explanations in the child’s environment and trying to do something about that was the preferred approach of many child care workers.

More positively the White Paper suggests the involvement of the parents in the decision-making process and presumably their involvement in the implementation of any decisions which would have been likely to have had a positive impact on the outcome of any decisions (Taylor and Alpert, 1973).

However, in spite of its radical attempt to ‘decriminalise’ the children’s legal system, it did not move away from the much older disease model and from seeking to change the child in order to change their behaviour. Apart from the conversion of the approved school order into a care order, no changes were to be made to the traditional ways of dealing with children convicted of offences.

The Committee on Maladjusted Children (1955) had already supported the idea of restitution as a suitable way of dealing with delinquent children but it finds no place in the White Paper. It has only resurfaced in the last decade as part of restorative justice (Jacobson and Gibbs, 2009) with young people being encouraged to make material and emotional restitution to victims in ways not dissimilar to those encouraged by Lennhoff (1960). Ironically, a key feature of restorative justice is the family conference (Liebmann, 2007) at which the offender is encouraged to acknowledge their responsibility for their actions; in other words, the offender is treated as a moral being capable of changing themselves rather than as a patient being treated for a disease.

Yet Homer Lane (Bazeley, 1928), Makarenko (1936), the post-War children’s republics (Brosse, 1950) and Lennhoff (1960) had all demonstrated that children and young people are perfectly well able to accept responsibility for their actions; the absence of this idea from the debates of the 1960s may explain why it was to be presented as ‘new’ in the 1970s (Shaw, 2008).


Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders (1959) The treatment of young oenders Report of the Advisory Council on the Treatment of Oenders London: Advisory Council on the Treatment of Offenders

Bazeley, E T (1928) Homer Lane and the Little Commonwealth London: Allen & Unwin See also Children Webmag February 2009.

Brosse, T (1950) Homeless children: report of the proceedings of the conference of Directors of Children’s Communities, Trogen Switzerland Publication No 573 Paris: United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

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Committee on Children and Young Persons (1960) Report of the Committee on Children and Young Persons (Chairman Viscount Ingleby) Cmnd 1191 London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office See also Children Webmag March 2011.

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Home Office (1962) Report of the Departmental Committee on the Probation Service [Chairman, Sir R. P. Morison] Cmnd 1650 London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office

Home Office (1968) Children in trouble Cmnd 3601 London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office

Jacobson, J and Gibbs, P (2009) Making amends: restorative youth justice in Northern Ireland London: Prison Reform Trust

Labour Party Study Group (1964) Crime — a challenge to us all: report of the Labour Party Study Group (Chairman: Lord Longford) London: Labour Party

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Liebmann, M (2007) Restorative justice: how it works London: Jessica Kingsley

Makarenko, A (1936) Road to life: translated by Stephen Garry London: Stanley Nott Originally published as Pedagogicheskaıa poèma See also Children Webmag February 2009.

Royal Commission on the Police (1962) Royal Commission on the Police, 1962 Final Report [Chairman, Sir Henry Willink]. Cmnd 1728. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office

Rutter, M (1971) Parent-child separation: psychological effects on the children Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 12 (4), 233–260

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Taylor, D and Alpert, S W (1973) Continuity and support: following residential treatment New York: Child Welfare League of America See also Children Webmag March 2009.

Winkler, M (2009) Why modern societies need social pedagogy more than social work In E Grupper, J Koch and F Peters (Eds) Challenges for child and youth care: a German-Israeli dialogue Chapter 1, pp. 12–31 Frankfurt/Main: IGfH-Eigenverlag Paper presented to the Joint German–Israeli Seminar on Social Pedagogy. Kfar-Saba, Israel 2007.

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