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Get The Facts

Parent's Guide: breaking the law, brain injury & your child

Information Services
 
 

Parents guide

Parent's Guide: breaking the law, brain injury & your child

Young people can challenge adult authority by engaging in acts that are illegal or unwise.

When these acts interfere with learning and social relationships or when there's a risk of harm, it's important to step in quickly and firmly. If such acts bring the young person into contact with the criminal justice system, it's important to try to get the system to make decisions that help the young person in learning more positive ways of behaving.

 

Parents are usually the ones who have to make sure that the court recognizes the effects of a brain injury, and brings down a ruling that is designed to assist their child-a potentially difficult and challenging task.

 

Young people with a brain injury may be particularly vulnerable because of problems such as impulsiveness, poor judgement, social isolation and the need for peer acceptance.

 

Their involvement may range from minor illegal activities such as shoplifting or vandalism, to potentially harmful stunts such as train surfing or throwing rocks at cars; or more seriously, to assaults (sometimes in gangs) and crimes such as burglary or car theft (with the associated risk of accidents).

 

Most parents are distressed if their child breaks the law or is caught in an illegal activity. Having to deal with police and possibly appear in court can be very upsetting.

 

The nature of the police and court systems makes it difficult to cater for individual needs. Again, it usually falls to parents to ensure that the court recognizes the effects of a brain injury in its ruling.

 

The offence may be a 'one-off' mistake which probably won't be repeated, but parents may want assistance to ensure that the situation doesn't occur again. It can help to identify the reasons for the young person's behaviour (possibly with an authoritative brain injury specialist).

 

For example:

  • Is it a case of 'limit testing' gone wrong?
  • Is the young person vulnerable to the wrong sort of friends?
  • Is the offence really an expression of anger and frustration?

 
Answers to these questions will help in deciding what to do. It's important to decide whether there are some positive things that can be done to lessen the risk of more illegal activities - for example, helping the young person to develop good communication skills, or finding a productive outlet for youthful energy. Sometimes these needs aren't recognized because police and court personnel are not trained in brain injury issues.

 

The criminal justice system

If your son or daughter has been charged by the police for allegedly committing a crime, check to see if you can obtain legal aid in your State. If unsuccessful, you'll need to engage a solicitor. If possible, chose someone who is experienced in representing people with disabilities. At the first court date, your solicitor will probably ask for an adjournment in order to find out what evidence the police have. You or your solicitor should write to the police for a copy of evidence, which will help in deciding whether your young person should plead 'guilty' or 'not guilty'.

 

Give your solicitor any information you have regarding your son's or daughter's brain injury, including neuropsychological assessments and/or doctors' reports. You may be required to obtain more current assessments. Any report should provide information on issues that the court can take into account, e.g. 'impulsivity' or being easily led.

 

It's important for friends and/or family members to attend court, as support for the young person tends to create a favourable impression (as well as its benefits for the young person). Don't blame yourself. This can happen to anyone, and many of the effects of a brain injury can work to increase the risk. The Brain Injury Association in your State should be able to link you up with the appropriate legal supports.

References and further information

Many thanks to Brain Foundation Victoria for permission to adapt their material for this fact sheet.

 

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