New guide helps lawyers advocate for looked-after children at police stations

By agency reporter
September 25, 2019

A step-by-step guide has been published to help lawyers advocate effectively for looked-after children at the police station.

The Howard League for Penal Reform and the Youth Justice Legal Centre at Just for Kids Law have worked together to produce the document, which offers guidance on practical steps that lawyers should take to ensure that looked-after children receive the support and assistance they need and are entitled to.

Looked-after children, and particularly those living in residential care, are disproportionately criminalised, compared to other children. They are less likely to receive support from family members or another trusted adult at the police station, and they should be entitled to additional protections set out in law, policy and guidance.

The guide, titled Representing looked-after children at the police station, provides information about the growing number of children coming into care and takes lawyers through the factors that can contribute to their criminalisation.

It then moves on to practical advice, including: how to review the decision to arrest or hold a child in custody; how to communicate effectively with a child; how to advocate for a child’s basic rights and entitlements; how to support a child at interview; how to consider whether a child is a victim of exploitation; how to make representations to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service; and how to make sure that a child’s community care needs are met.

Laura Janes, Legal Director at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The over-representation of looked-after children in the criminal justice system is a disgrace that has been known about for years.

“This guide brings together policy and practice to empower lawyers at the police station to take practical steps to counter this trend.”

Laura Cooper, Co-Head of the Youth Justice Legal Centre at Just for Kids Law, said: “Just because a child doesn’t grow up in a traditional family setting is no reason for them not to be able to reach their potential and fulfil their dreams, but we often find that children in care get dragged into the criminal justice system.

“Repeated contact with the police and other criminal justice agencies sees many of these highly vulnerable children being unnecessarily criminalised, including some ending up in prison. This means they are drawn into a strong current of crime from which it is difficult to escape.

“We hope the new guide will make more youth justice lawyers aware of the tools at their disposal for avoiding the unnecessary criminalisation of children in care.”

* Read Representing looked-after children at the police station here

* The Howard League is running a programme to end the criminalisation of children in residential care. More information about the programme can be found here

* Howard League for Penal Reform https://howardleague.org/

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