HUNDREDS MORE BOYS AND GIRLS can look forward to a brighter future, says the Howard League for Penal Reform, as new UK Government figures reveal the transformative impact of the charity’s programme to end the criminalisation of children in residential care in England.

Data collected by the Department for Education (DfE) show that, while the number of children being placed in children’s homes continues to rise, the number being criminalised is falling significantly.

Progress made since midway through the last decade means that children in residential care are now only one third as likely  to be criminalised. In the year ending March 2014, 15 per cent of children in children’s homes received a caution or conviction; in the year ending March 2020, this proportion was reduced to 5 per cent.

The Howard League began its campaign after publishing research showing that children in children’s homes were more likely to be criminalised than other children, including those in other types of care placement. In the years since, the charity has worked with police forces, Ofsted, the DfE, and some children’s homes and local authorities to address the issue.

However,the charity says there is still more work to do. Although the number of convictions and cautions has been reduced significantly, it remains the case that children in children’s homes are more likely to be criminalised than other children.

Academic research has shown that each contact a child has with the criminal justice system drags them deeper into it, leading to more crime. The Howard League is working to keep as many children as possible out of the system in the first place.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The last 18 months have been difficult for everyone, especially children, so the Howard League is delighted to be able to share some good news today.

“Every child deserves the opportunity to thrive and realise their potential, and we must do all we can to ensure they are not held back by a criminal record.

“Children in residential care need nurture and support, not repeated contact with the police, and it is a sign of how far we have come – and how bad things were – that they are now three times less likely to be criminalised than they were.”

The DfE figures show that the number of children living in children’s homes in England, who had been looked after continuously for at least 12 months, rose by almost 30 per cent in six years – from 4,050 in 2013-14 to 5,210 in 2019-20.

Over the same period, the number of those children who were convicted or subject to a final warning or reprimand more than halved – from 610 to 280.

These reductions are particularly impressive as the number of teenagers coming into care has risen sharply – almost a third of children entering care now are aged between 13 and 17.

The disproportionate criminalisation of children in residential care was exposed by the Howard League in 2016. A scoping briefing published by the charity highlighted a systemic problem across the country, where staff in some children’s homes would routinely resort to contacting the police, often over minor incidents that would never come to officers’ attention if they happened in family homes.

The Howard League has gone on to publish six more briefings on the issue, promoting best practice in policing and children’s homes and telling the stories of children who were criminalised while living in residential care. The charity also helped to create a step-by-step guide to help lawyers advocate for looked-after children at the police station.

* More information about the Howard League’s programme to end the criminalisation of children in residential care here.

* Source: Howard League for Penal Reform