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Criminal Care? · 10 Jul 2018

Encouraging better police data on call-outs to children’s homes

Last week the Howard League held a data summit as part of our programme to end the criminalisation of children in residential care. Attendees included representatives from various police forces, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Ofsted, the Home Office and the Office for Statistical Regulation.

The focus, as that cast list might suggest, was on police data. Our briefing on best practice in policing, found that the forces making the most discernible progress in reducing the criminalisation of children in children’s homes had all taken steps to understand and monitor the issue using the data available to them.

Our work on child arrests has also shown that data can be used to help identify good practice, drive positive change and track success. Child arrests have come down from nearly 250,000 in 2010 to under 90,000 in 2016.

Unfortunately data is an issue when it comes to analysing the criminalisation of children in residential care. There is some data available nationally, sourced from local authorities and published by the Department for Education. While it does show that looked-after children living in children’s homes are being criminalised at excessively high rates compared to other children, it only covers children who have been in care for 12 months or more. In addition, the data only covers formal criminalisation and it doesn’t throw any real light on practices in children’s homes.

Police data has the potential to tell us much more. When we published our initial briefing looking at this issue, Criminal Care, we tried to secure information from forces via a Freedom of Information request, looking at what figures forces could supply around call-outs to children’s homes. The majority of the forces were unable to comply with our questions and the data we did receive was not directly comparable across forces. There were various reasons for this but the main sticking point was the fact that most forces were unable to identify when police call-outs were to children’s homes.

We want to see better available data and more transparency around the policing of children’s homes

The summit considered what might be done to remedy this and we had a really useful and engaged discussion from the representatives around the table. We also heard about an initiative from Ofsted, which as of April of this year now requires children’s homes to report on police call-outs in the pre-inspection questionnaire. This is a really welcome step which we have been lobbying for.

Data isn’t everything of course and numbers can only tell you so much. That’s why we have also been interviewing children and young people and it’s why we’ve been pleased to use this blog as a platform for some young people to tell their own stories. Nevertheless, we do want to see better available data and more transparency around the policing of children’s homes. Later this year we’ll explore how to take forward the discussion so we can do just that.

Andrew Neilson

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