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Criminal Care? · 10 Sep 2018

Child arrests and children in residential care

Today the Howard League is publishing our annual briefing on Child arrests in England and Wales. Our research shows that there were 79,012 child arrests in 2017, a very welcome 68 per cent reduction from 2010 when there were 245,763 child arrests.

Every year, since 2010, we have collected data on the numbers of child arrests through Freedom of Information requests which we send to all 43 police service areas in England and Wales and the British Transport Police. Armed with this data we have worked closely with national police leaders, forces and inspectorates to encourage good practices which have led to fewer child arrests year-on-year. As we met with forces all over the country to discuss child arrests, we found that time and again officers were raising concerns with us about unnecessary police contact with children’s homes. Their concerns led to our initial research into the problem and subsequently this programme to end the criminalisation of children in residential care.

There is still more work to be done

We’re delighted to be able to report such a significant reduction in the numbers of child arrests. It is a testament to the significant advances in the understanding of vulnerability and trauma and the tangible shift in attitudes towards children who come into contact with the police that we have witnessed in recent years amongst many of the forces we have worked with. These improvements in the policing of children have been encouraged at a national level, most notably by the National Police Chiefs’ Council under the guidance of Olivia Pinkney, Chief Constable of Hampshire Constabulary and portfolio lead for the policing of children and young people.

However, there is still more work be done to prevent children being unnecessarily drawn into the criminal justice system and having their lives blighted by criminal records and unnecessary police contact. Our programme to end the criminalisation of children in residential care has highlighted the disproportionate levels of criminalisation of children living in this type of care and of how good practice in working with and policing children’s homes can lead to dramatic reductions in call-outs and consequent arrests.

The briefing we’re publishing today calls on forces to prioritise work with residential children’s homes. It directs forces to our work on best practice in policing children’s homes and highlights examples of good practice in Surrey, Essex and Sussex Police forces, all of which have identified issues around children’s homes and tackled them. By doing so, these forces have not only seen a positive impact on their child arrest figures but also achieved unquantifiable benefits for the lives of some of the most vulnerable children in their areas.

Claire Sands


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