Children in residential care three times less likely to be criminalised than in 2014

New Department for Education (DfE) data shows that while the number of children being placed in children’s homes continues to rise, the number being criminalised is falling.

26/07/21

Children in residential care three times less likely to be criminalised than in 2014

New Government figures have revealed that children in residential care are now three times less likely to be criminalised than in 2014.

The figures, obtained through Freedom of Information requests, show that in the year ending March 2014, 15% of children in children’s homes received a caution or conviction. However, figures for the year ending March 2020 show that this proportion was reduced to 5%.

The DfE figures show that the number of children living in children’s homes in England, who had been looked after continuously for at least 12 months, rose by almost 30% in six years – from 4,050 in 2013-14 to 5,210 in 2019-20.

Over the same period, the number of those children who were convicted or subject to a final warning or reprimand had more than halved – from 610 to 280.

The reduction in criminalisation is particularly noteworthy due to the average age of children coming into care rising. The number of teenagers coming into care increased sharply, with almost a third of children entering care now aged between 13 and 17.

The data comes after research by the Howard League for Penal Reform in 2016, which found that children living in children’s homes were being criminalised at excessively high rates compared to other boys and girls, including those in other types of care.

It suggested that there is a systemic problem across England and Wales that leads staff to resort to the police, often over minor incidents that would never come to officers’ attention if they happened in family homes. In the years since the report, the charity has worked with police forces, Ofsted, the DfE, and some children’s homes and local authorities to address the issue.

The reduction in criminalisation has been attributed to several factors, including Government strategy and improvements in the approaches to helping children in trouble by several police forces.

In November 2018, the Department for Education, the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice launched a national protocol on reducing unnecessary criminalisation of looked-after children and care leavers. The protocol was developed by a large group of stakeholders, including charities, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the Youth Justice Board, the Independent Children’s Homes Association, Ofsted, fostering and children’s homes providers, and representatives from local and national government. It aimed to create framework to help social care and criminal justice agencies keep looked-after children out of the criminal justice system.

Improvements to policing were also said to be behind the shift, with innovative multi-agency working with key partners, such as children’s services and the youth offending teams, said to have been effective in reducing criminalisation. Working to draw up procedures with local partners, to then share best practice with children’s homes managers and staff enabled processes to be put in place in homes. This meant issues could be dealt with without calling the police, restorative approaches to be attempted, and partners could explore working together to reduce unnecessary police contact.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, warned that there is still more work to do. Although the number of convictions and cautions has been reduced significantly, it remains the case that children in children’s homes are more likely to be criminalised than other children.

“The last 18 months have been difficult for everyone, especially children, so the Howard League is delighted to be able to share some good news today. Every child deserves the opportunity to thrive and realise their potential, and we must do all we can to ensure they are not held back by a criminal record.

“Children in residential care need nurture and support, not repeated contact with the police, and it is a sign of how far we have come – and how bad things were – that they are now three times less likely to be criminalised than they were.”

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