Michael Gove is set to advise a two-year drive to end criminalisation in residential care.
The Howard League for Penal Reform has launched a two year programme which will exploring best practice within the police service and the residential care sector in a bid to keep as many looked-after children as possible out of the criminal justice system.
The charity’s programme will be supported by an advisory board chaired by former education secretary Michael Gove.
Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “We are delighted to announce this important programme of work, which will build on our existing expertise on the policing of children and respond to concerns that police forces themselves have highlighted to us on the criminalisation of children in residential care.
“There are two major questions we shall seek to answer. Firstly, how can children’s homes be encouraged to manage children’s behaviour without recourse to the police? And secondly, in those cases when the police are called out to homes, what can be done to avoid a child being unnecessarily criminalised?
“I am particularly pleased to welcome the involvement of Michael Gove, who has spoken so eloquently in the past about doing the best for troubled children in our society.”
The project follows research, published by the Howard League in March http://howardleague.org/publications/criminal-care/ , which found that children aged 13 to 15 living in children’s homes were found to be almost six times as likely to be criminalised as looked after children of the same age in other placements – and almost 20 times more likely to be criminalised than non-looked after children.
The Howard League’s research also highlighted a potential systemic problem that led residential care staff to resort to the police, often over minor incidents that would never come to officers’ attention if they happened in family homes.
The two-year programme will look at how the best children’s homes in the country support children and will aim to identify best practice in police forces to divert children from the criminal justice system.
Children in care will be interviewed as part of the programme to ensure that their views are taken into consideration when policy is shaped through the drive.
The number of looked after children in England and Wales is at its highest point for more than 30 years.
Martin Narey conducted a review of residential care earlier this year. Narey highlights a south-east protocol to reduce offending and criminalisation of children in care (Hampshire, Kent, Surrey and Sussex Police Services) which states that: “It will be an expectation of all local authorities that staff and carers of children in care will strive to manage challenging behaviour at the placement address by way of internal resolution without involvement of the police wherever possible.”
The former head of the National Offender Management System recommended in the inquiry that the Department for Education and the Home Office should urge police services and local authorities to replicate the south-east protocol, or to agree similar arrangements. If they are not already doing so, police and authorities should apply a restorative justice approach in dealing with children’s unacceptable behaviour.