William Eichler 18 December 2017

Children in care criminalised for ‘minor issues’

Children living in care are being criminalised for ‘minor issues’, new report from a penal reform charity warns.

The Howard League for Penal Reform today published its research into the policing of children’s homes, which revealed the police are receiving a high number of call-outs from some homes.

It found many children’s homes were calling the police for ‘minor incidents’. In one case they were called because a child squirted a member of staff with water. In another, because a boy pulled down a curtain.

The charity warned that this was a drain on law enforcement resources and risked ‘criminalising’ children.

The report outlines how police forces are tackling the problem by working closely with homes and local authorities to try and cut down on the amount of unnecessary call-outs.

The Howard League has previously published research which shows children aged 16 and 17 living in children’s homes are 15 times more likely to be criminalised than other children of the same age.

Research also shows the more contact a child has with the criminal justice system, the more they are likely to reoffend. According to the charity, this means keeping children out of the system will help prevent crime.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: ‘The Howard League is proud to have played a key role in reducing child arrests across England and Wales. Working together with the police, we have ensured that tens of thousands of children will have a brighter future and not be dragged into a downward spiral of crime and custody.

‘There is still much work to do, however, and our research has found that children in residential care are being criminalised unnecessarily. Police, local authorities and children’s homes must work together to rise to this challenge.

‘The best scenario for a child living in a children’s home is not to have any contact with the police at all, just like any child living at a parental home.

‘Ensuring that there is the least possible contact between police and children living in residential care would free up police time to deal with more important matters and prevent children having their life chances blighted by an unnecessary criminal record.’

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