Children in care are “criminalised” by numerous police visits, a campaign charity has claimed.
Research from the Howard League for Penal Reform has found that police are called to care homes thousands of times every year to deal with the actions of troubled children. Between 2014 and 2015 there were 10,299 call outs across 16 police forces. This represents almost two for every child in care across England and Wales.
Police forces the West Midlands, Norfolk, Cleveland and the West Mercia Police each dealt with over 1,000 call outs in that time, according to the report. By contrast, the South Wales police only had 39, the lowest rate in England and Wales.
Local authority social workers who run children’s care homes call the police far too frequently and often do so in response to “minor” incidents, the charity claimed. Such incidents “would never come to officers’ attention if they happened in family homes”. Once the police are involved, many children end up in the criminal justice system and this has caused young people in care to be “criminalised at excessively high rates”.
Children in care between 13 and 15 years old are more than 20 times more likely to enter the criminal justice system than those who are not looked after by a local authority, the charity’s research suggested. The report identified 13 years old as a “tipping point” when children “lose society’s sympathy and, rather than being helped, they are pushed into the criminal justice system”.
Howard League Chief Executive Frances Crook said that children in care were “wonderful young people who have had a really bad start in life” and that more should be done to “give these children what they need and deserve”.
In 2013, similar claimes were made in a report published by the Commons Justice Committee. The Committee Chair at the time was Liberal Democrat MP Sir Alan Beith, who has since become a peer. He said that “vulnerable children across the UK are effectively being abandoned by children’s and social services”.
The Howard League’s full report – Criminal Care: Children’s homes and criminalising children – is available online. Read it here.