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Criminal Care? · 28 Nov 2019

A justice system that cares

Become is the charity for children in care and young care leavers. This guest post from Sam Turner explores what the charity wants the next government to do to improve the lives of care-experienced young people who come into contact with the youth and criminal justice systems.

This month, Become released its manifesto – A system that cares – which outlines our key asks of the next government to support care-experienced children and young people.

We’re calling for all of the main political parties to commit to a comprehensive independent review of the care system which listens to those with lived experience, to focus on the continuity of relationships and stability for all children, and to ensure all care-experienced young people can access the mental health support they need to heal and thrive.

As we’ve explored previously on this blog, we hear lots from care-experienced young people about their interactions with the youth and criminal justice systems. Our last post highlighted some personal experiences of police interactions for some of the young people we work with, as well as what they think needs to change.

In our manifesto, we’re calling on the leaders of the main political parties to make a commitment to care-experienced people. Given the unfair criminalisation and over-representation of care-experienced people in the justice system, we think it’s vital that this commitment includes addressing issues such as these which extend beyond the operation of the care system itself.

What we want to see

We want to see mandatory training for all police, prison and probation professionals around the needs of children and young people in care. This should include information on the impact of trauma and childhood adversity, and explore how experiences of care can increase the likelihood of children and young people coming into contact with the justice system, often through no fault of their own.

“When I first went into care, one of them said ‘ah, you didn’t want to follow your parent’s rules did you?’. They made me feel like it was my fault that I’d gone into care. They think we’re badly behaved and that’s why we’re ended up where we are.”

Read Become’s previous post care-experienced young people’s interactions with the police for further insights into young people’s experiences and ideas.

In addition, we must tackle the tragedy of young people who are all but forgotten by their local authority when they enter a custodial setting, such as a Young Offender Institution (YOI). One recent inspection report reveals the failure of children’s social care services to provide adequate help to those leaving custodial settings: of a sample of 50 children released from custody, 37 needed input from children’s social care services but only 6 had received adequate help with their resettlement needs.

Our own experiences at Become – both in delivering our Passport to Parliament project with a group of young care leavers at HMP/YOI Isis and offering advice and support sessions to children in HMP/YOI Cookham Wood and Medway secure training centre – align too closely with the findings of a recent Innovation Unit report which highlighted “fragmented and uncoordinated support and intervention”.

We heard from children who weren’t receiving their rights and entitlements and young people who had become so disillusioned by the failed promises of their ‘corporate parents’ that they’d given up hope of getting the guidance and security they needed ahead of their release. Many weren’t receiving support from social workers or personal advisers, and found it impossible to navigate the complexities of both the justice and care systems when asking for help. The professionals supporting them told us they simply weren’t able to communicate as required with children’s services to provide the support which every individual deserved, even down to the provision of basic winter clothing.

This simply isn’t good enough.

Recently, we’ve been delighted to support the work of HMPPS to develop its new national strategy for care-experienced people. We welcome great initiatives in the sector from NEPACS, the Care Leavers Association and others. But we must increase the pace of change.

This begins with a central government commitment to ensuring proper funding, comprehensive review and significant changes to the way we support care-experienced young people who move into and out of custody. We look forward to working with the Howard League and others to ensure this becomes an urgent priority for whoever leads this country into 2020.

Sam Turner, Voice and Influencing Manager, Become


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