The police were called to children's homes in England and Wales almost 23,000 times in 2018 leading a penal reform charity to raise concerns over children in care being criminalised.
Some children's homes called police as many as 200 times a year and there were almost 23,000 call outs in total from all the children's homes in England and Wales. Almost half the calls to police from children’s homes in 2018 were in response to children going missing.
Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “A child living in residential care has more often than not experienced a range of problems early in life, from acute family stress to abuse and neglect. These children need nurture and support, not repeated contact with the police and criminalisation.
The Howard League for Penal Reform sent Freedom of Information Act requests to all police forces in England and Wales, asking for data for call-outs from children’s homes. while some homes do not call the police at all, others pick up the phone again and again.
Derbyshire, South Yorkshire, Humberside, Suffolk and Northumbria police forces were all called out more than 200 times to children's homes. Most forces reported having been called out more than 100 times by individual homes.
Some children were going missing because they are being criminally exploited, such as drug running through county lines. Others will be criminalised as a result of having gone missing, perhaps trying to get home, for related incidents such as stealing to survive.
A Freedom of Information request submitted to the Department for Education by the Howard League revealed that 77 per cent of children who had been formally criminalised while living in a children’s home between April 2017 and March 2018 had gone missing from placement at some point during the course of the year.
Furthermore, the Department for Education currently only collects criminalisation data for children who have been looked after continuously for the last 12 months. This means that there are a large number of children who have been looked after for shorter periods – 26,680 during the year 2017-18 – for whom levels of criminalisation are unknown.
The briefing suggests that, although some children’s homes are calling the police excessively, efforts to reduce criminalisation are now having an impact - an issue the charity has been campaigning for. The proportion of children formally criminalised while in residential care was reduced from 15 per cent to 10 per cent between 2014 and 2018 which, the charity says, is a "step in the right direction".
However, the briefing raises concerns about the potential criminalisation of children living in semi-independent homes that are not subject to the Children’s Homes Regulations and are not regulated by Ofsted. More than 2,000 children were living in this type of accommodation at the end of March 2018.
Frances Crook added: “Our research shows that some children’s homes are picking up the phone again and again over matters that would never involve the police if they happened in a family home.
“While the figures we publish today show there is some way to go before the police and children’s homes properly understand the scale of the problem, official figures from the Department for Education suggest the efforts of the Howard League and others are now having an impact. We need to see everyone build on this, with more action to stop children in residential care having their lives blighted with a criminal record," she concluded.