Children’s homes too often resort to involving police rather than offering teenagers in their care the support they need, according to a new report.
The Howard League for Penal Reform found 13 to 15 year olds living in children’s homes were 20 times more likely to be criminalised than a non looked-after child and six times more likely than a child in other forms of care placement.
The charity said its research showed there was a ‘systemic problem’ that had made police involvement the default option.
Its report highlighted official statistics that show around 4% of children aged 10 to 12 who live in children’s homes have been criminalised. That figure rises to more than 19% among children aged 13 to 15.
Some three-quarters of England’s 1,760 children’s homes are run by private sector companies. It warned ‘a lack of transparency, particularly in relation to private providers, has meant that homes are unaccountable, bad practices are hidden and children suffer’.
The Howard League contacted every police force in England and Wales to gather data on how often they were called out to incidents at children’s homes. West Mercia Police and West Midlands Police each recorded almost 6,000 incidents between 2012 and 2015.
The report said police believed they were ‘picking up the pieces of a “social care deficit”, and that children were being pushed into the criminal justice process rather than receiving the support they needed from local authorities and children’s homes’.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: ‘These children have been taken into care because they are in dire need and their parents cannot, or will not, look after them.
‘They are wonderful young people who have had a really bad start in life. They deserve every chance to flourish.
‘Private companies, charities and local authorities that are paid a fortune by the taxpayer should give these children what they need and deserve.’