CHILD and young offenders should have their criminal records wiped sooner to help them get back on the straight and narrow, a major new study has found.

The Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice (CYCJ), a leading think tank, warned that many young people are carrying childhood "convictions" that stop them getting jobs well in to adulthood.

Tough disclosure regimes introduced over the past decade mean even offences dealt with under the children's panel hearing can hang over a young person during the crucial period when they are trying to set out on a life of work.

Under present rules, offences committed by people under 18 are spent in half the time of an adult's. But it still means somebody with a community order still has it on record two-and-a-half years later.

The CYCJ report, by centre leader Claire Lightowler and colleagues David Orr and Nina Vaswani, said: "Crucially, when a young person at a Children's Hearing accepts 'offence grounds', these are treated as convictions under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act.

"This means many of Scotland's most vulnerable young people are carrying 'convictions' with them well into adulthood, and potentially further, adding to their exclusion from pro-social or meaningful opportunities."

Although most offending by children is dealt with through the hearings system, the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland is just eight. The authors are not talking about wiping the slates of the most troubling young people, the so-called critical few, such as those who show seriously dangerous violent or sexually violent behaviour. Their aim is to find a way to get young people who have offended as children or teens - the vast majority of whom will have committed relatively minor crimes - into work and out of trouble.

They said: "Removing barriers which limit Scottish employers' willingness to recruit those with a conviction is imperative.

"While safeguards will always be necessary to ensure members of the public are not placed at undue risk, the current measures in relation to disclosure seem far too blunt an instrument, stifling opportunities for many on account of concerns about the behaviour of 'a critical few'."

Some progress has been made to address the CYCJ concerns. In 2011 the Children's Hearing Act introduced rules which would see many disposals considered to be alternatives to prosecution and therefore not kept on record into adulthood. However, these rules have not come in to force because of concerns their blanket nature would conceal serious offending by young people.

The report said: "The delay to their implementation stems in part from debates about how to address effectively offences committed by children and young people which, owing to their nature and severity, make subsequent disclosure desirable.

"It is intended this issue will be resolved through the listing of relevant serious offences in an order to be approved by the Scottish Parliament in due course and this order exists in draft format. Unfortunately, the necessary legislative changes require action at Westminster as well as Holyrood and this has slowed the process."

Such rules would mean a major exercise by the police to sort through records to ensure the right people stay on record.

The CYCJ report is written to mark the 50th anniversary of Kilbrandon, the study which created Scotland's system of Children's Hearings.

The report's authors stressed offenders in Nordic states were less likely to live with criminal records hanging over them. This is because such countries tend to look for alternatives to prosecution, rather than because their convictions are spent quickly.

A Scottish child, potentially as young as eight, who is given a custodial disposal of more than 30 months would never have the slate wiped clean.