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Criminal Care? · 9 Sep 2021

Closing reflections

This blog, which came out of the Howard League’s work to end the criminalisation of children living in residential care, has been running for three and a half years. It was inspired by the large amount of evidence the Howard League’s work was capturing, evidence that could not easily be inserted into our publications. The mix of updates, reflections and young people’s voices has, we hope, provided a richer texture to the work and highlighted the complexity of the issues children in residential care face.

That programme of work has now officially come to an end, although the Howard League will continue to keep a weather eye on the issues the programme uncovered. For the time being, however, this post presents some closing reflections on what was achieved.

Most clearly, and as we recently publicised, heartening reductions in the proportion of children living in residential care being criminalised can be tangibly seen over the course of our work. Since we first published a scoping briefing in 2016, revealing 15 per cent of children living in residential care had been criminalised in the year ending March 2014, that figure has dropped to 5 per cent – meaning children in children’s homes are three times less likely to be criminalised than before.

The scoping briefing – which generated a huge amount of press – did not just reveal the high levels of criminalisation of children in residential care but it also pointed to serious concerns about the structure of the children’s homes market and the cost of private provision. Initially dismissed by some commentators, these concerns have become increasingly mainstream, culminating in an investigation currently being completed by the Competition and Markets Authority at the instigation of the Chair of the independent review of children’s social care.

Children are three times less likely to be criminalised than before our work began

Over the course of the programme that followed, we interviewed children and young people to foreground their voices in our work, engaged with the police to encourage better practice and data management, and worked with Ofsted to see the introduction of a requirement for children’s homes to include data on police call-outs in pre-inspection questionnaires. We published a briefing on what makes for a good children’s home and a legal guide on representing looked-after children at the police station was developed with the Youth Justice Legal Centre. A Scottish version of this guide has just been launched by the Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice together with the Scottish Child Law Centre. We also advised on the development of a National Protocol on reducing the criminalisation of children in care and a London version produced by MOPAC.

The issues uncovered during the programme of work ranged more widely than the police response to callouts from children’s homes, or the management of those homes themselves. Thanks to more in-depth media work with the BBC, the Howard League was also able to play a key role in highlighting bad practice in relation to unregulated and unregistered placements in England and Wales. And the Howard League was one of the first organisations to raise concerns about the connections between residential care and child criminal exploitation.

Much of this successful impact was recognised by a Children & Young People Now Award in 2018. And we are grateful to the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation for supporting the programme of work.

We want to close this final post, however, by highlighting the range of guest contributions we featured on the blog. There are too many to single out, but they range from posts by young people themselves, to contributions from many other expert voices – including academics, commentators on the care system, and workers from the charity sector. These guest posts are, we hope, a reason to come back to the blog as a resource in the years to come.

Thank you to all our readers and contributors. And if you would like to support impactful work like this, then please do consider joining the Howard League to help us make more positive change going forward.

Andrew Neilson and Claire Sands


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