What can happen to my child accused of a crime?

When children make a mistake and break the law, they and their parents are often frightened about what will happen next. It is natural to be scared, but getting answers to your questions can help alleviate some of your fears.

For instance, if your child is accused of a crime, your primary concern is likely what consequences he or she could be facing. Could they be sent to prison? Will their entire future be destroyed? What will happen?

Juvenile versus adult crimes in Ontario

One of the most critical elements to understand is that there is a big difference between a juvenile offence and an adult offence. Generally, the goal of the youth justice system is to rehabilitate the young person and give them the tools and opportunities to avoid reoffending.

For adults, however, a criminal sentence is largely to punish the person with imprisonment or other penalties.

All cases involving a young person between the ages of 12 and 17 will go through the youth justice system to determine guilt, per the Youth Criminal Justice Act. The courts typically sentence a minor as a juvenile, but he or she could receive an adult sentence under some circumstances. Such could be the case for someone older than 14 who is guilty of a serious violent offence.

Possible youth sentences

Unless a child receives an adult sentence, he or she could receive the following outcomes to a criminal case:

  • Extrajudicial measures, such as warnings, Crown cautions and sanctions
  • Youth sentencing, including community service and participation in certain programs
  • Custody and supervision, including custody orders, intensive treatment plans and close monitoring

A child can also face penalties at school and in extra-curricular activities, as well as strained personal relationships and emotional well-being.

Protecting your child

As a parent, you can help your child by securing legal counsel and connecting your child with supportive resources if he or she is accused of a crime. These situations do not go away on their own, and again, the goal of our youth justice system is not to destroy a young person’s life.

However, there are things at stake for your child and your family. Being informed and avoiding costly missteps can make it easier to navigate this difficult situation.


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