Police forces praised for action on criminalisation in children's homes

By Joe Lepper

| 18 December 2017

Joint action by care home providers and police to tackle the criminalisation of children in residential care is dramatically reducing the number of inappropriate call-outs, research has found.

Howard League for Penal Reform chief executive Frances Crook said children are having their life chances blighted by unnecessary criminal records

The Howard League for Penal Reform has revealed the findings as part of its campaign to halt what it describes as "excessively high" rates of police call-outs at children's homes, often over minor incidents, which they say is unfairly criminalising looked-after children.

The first part of its research, published in March 2016, revealed that 13- to 15-year-olds in children's home were almost six times as likely to be criminalised as looked-after children in other placements, and almost 20 times more likely to be criminalised than a child not in care.

But in research published this week, the campaign group says that a number of police forces are successfully working with children's homes to reduce the number of call-outs.

In Dorset, there has been a reduction of almost half (49 per cent) in call-outs from residential homes between January and August this year, compared with the same period in 2016, as a result of a range of measures put in place by police, care home providers, Dorset County Council and the county's youth offending team.

This includes restorative justice training for care home staff so they can better deal with challenging behaviour and appointing a police point of contact to advise homes on when they should be making a call.

In addition, police control room staff in Dorset have all been trained to advise children's home staff on whether a call is unnecessary.

In West Mercia, police have set up a "resilient care home team" that works with homes and advises them on dealing with behavioural problems.

Over an 18-month period, the proportion of call-outs deemed to be "appropriate" rose from a low of 18 per cent to 56 per cent at the end of the test period. Over a year, one provider in West Mercia rose from a low point where none of their calls were deemed to be appropriate to having all their calls found to be appropriate.

However, the report says inappropriate calls over minor incidents are still too common.

One force said they were called because a child had squirted a member of staff with water, while another said they were called because a boy pulled down a curtain.

"One officer said he felt that on occasion homes called the police to help them ‘tuck up' teenagers who refused to go to bed," states the report.

Howard League chief executive Frances Crook, said: "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 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."

Chief constable Olivia Pinkney, the National Police Chiefs Council lead for children and young people, added: "Police call-outs to children's homes have been a concern for some years across the UK. The police are always there in cases of emergencies, but too often we are called for incidents that are not appropriate for the police to be involved with.

"All forces are looking at how they can work more closely with residential care homes and improving procedures to ensure the police are not involved unnecessarily."

The Independent Children's Homes Association has been contacted for comment.

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