The Howard League for Penal Reform has published a report which notes that children’s homes staff are quick to contact the police for matters that would usually be sorted out within a traditional family home settings.
Data drawn upon in the report states that some forces are contacted by children’s homes thousands of times over seemingly trivial matters- an example given related to a broken cup. There are further claims which have suggested that some private children’s home providers are using police cells as extensions of their care homes when understaffed with competent trained professionals who can manage challenging behaviours.
There are around 1800 children’s homes in England where ‘looked after children’ are placed should they be unable to go into foster homes.
The alarming, if not surprising, issue to come out of this report is the increasing criminalisation of children that have been brought up within care. In 2013-14 6% of children in care aged 10-17 years old had been convicted/subject to a final warning in comparison with only 1% of children not in care.
The report asked for data from police on the frequency of visits to children’s homes, the majority of which showed an increase between 2012-2015 with some totalling several thousand visits.
The Executive Officer of the Independent Children’s Homes Association, Jonathan Stanley said: “Children’s homes are the most scrutinised and accountable service for young people, inspected rigorously twice a year. If training and competence were issues this would be raised in inspection. Inspection outcomes have risen yet again, according to latest figures.
Children’s homes are very careful as to the young people who they accept. Meeting their needs is paramount. This is closely looked at in inspection. It seems that what is being reported here is history. Police and children’s homes work closely together and meet regularly in local areas. That’s not to say there aren’t some particular issues but this needs real life, detailed evidence in order for them to be understood.”
Statistics are just that, statistics and, as is rightly stated, each case should be dealt with on its own merits and so called ‘trivial incidents’ may not appear so in the children’s home setting. The soundbites of journalism may point to a deeper issue, one which is reliant on the rush to involve the police with incidents that should be managed locally without the need to call upon higher external authorities. There is no doubt that if children’s homes settings are as quick to dial 999 as it would appear then police are being seen as the arbiters in a setting where they should not necessarily hold the final say.