WINNIPEG -- A new study has determined that kids who spend time in the care of the child welfare system are at high risk of getting into trouble with the law.

The research, conducted by the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy (MCHP) at the University of Manitoba, focused on a group of people born in 1994.

“We’d heard for a long time that there was an overlap between the child welfare and the youth justice systems,” said Marni Brownell, a professor of community health science, and senior research scientist and associate director of research at the MCHP.

“Some people talked about a pipeline between the child welfare and youth criminal justice system. So what we were able to do is actually look at the numbers and quantify the amount of that overlap.”

Research found that more than one-third of kids who spent any time in the care of Child and Family Services (CFS) were charged with at least one crime between the ages of 12 and 17. It also determined that nearly half of the youth who spent time in CFS had been charged with a criminal offence by the age of 21.

According to Brownell, this does not mean that being in care causes involvement in the justice system, but rather it shows an overlap between the two systems.

“We were able to identify an association between being in the child welfare and the youth criminal justice system, but we weren’t able to say what’s causing these kids to actually have a greater involvement in the youth criminal justice system,” she said.

“And it’s probably all sorts of factors that are contributing.”

Brownell noted that other research has found that many kids in care are experiencing trauma, including the trauma of being removed from their homes and families.

“Our research found that 70 per cent of the kids who were in that overlap group, the kids who had been in child welfare and had a charge in the youth criminal justice system, had mental health issues,” she said.

“And we also know that some of the things kids in care are being charged for are sometimes thought of as pretty typical adolescent behaviour, things like staying out after curfew or drinking alcohol. It ends up more likely being criminalized for kids in care.”

The study also found that Indigenous youth are greatly overrepresented in both the CFS and justice systems.


The researchers looked at anonymous data from more than 18,000 kids. The more times a person was brought into care, the higher the risk became of them being charged with a crime.

The research team also analyzed birth cohorts to find any trends. They discovered that over time, the overlap between the child welfare and youth criminal justice systems worsened, and the involvement of First Nations youth also increased.

Brownell said she thinks too many kids are being taken into care in Manitoba.

“If there were more resources put into prevention services and improving living conditions, we would certainly see a reduction in that,” she said.

“Having said that, there are probably always circumstances where a family is going to need this kind of extreme action, but at a much, much smaller scale than what we find in Manitoba.”