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Criminal Care? · 6 Oct 2020

Good policing practice in Norfolk

In the year ending March 2014, just before we started our programme to reduce the criminalisation of children in residential care, 15 per cent of children living in children’s homes were formally criminalised. Fast forward just five years to March 2019, and the rates of criminalisation had reduced very significantly, with seven per cent of children living in residential care formally criminalised that year[1].

Good policing practice has, of course played a huge part in achieving this progress. Work done by Norfolk Police exemplifies the key elements of successful programmes and what needs to be done to embed and build on achievements. It shows how well-led, focused policing can bring about rapid improvements: Norfolk Police’s residential care work began at the end of 2016; in the first 5 months there was a reduction of 50 per cent in the numbers of criminal justice outcomes (charges and cautions) for children in residential care.

So how did Norfolk achieve this? First step was drawing up a protocol and getting key partners involved, in this case, children’s services and the youth offending team. Once the working group had been established and the protocol was in place, a scrutiny panel assessed initial data returns and allowed for understanding of the different frameworks in which the partners operated, and highlighted best practice.  Findings were included into workshops which were held for children’s homes managers and staff in different locations around the county. The partnership approach enabled a clear message to be set around expectations that homes would attend and engage with the work. The workshops initiated discussions about how homes might manage young people’s behaviour, processes that should be in place in homes for dealing with issues without calling the police, restorative approaches and how partners could work together to reduce unnecessary police contact.  Children’s services delivered restorative approaches training to staff working in both the local authority run and private children’s homes, foster carers and police officers. Other relevant training and dissemination was also provided to other partners such as magistrates, appropriate adults and voluntary agencies.

Alongside this educational aspect of the work, SPOCs (officers acting as ‘Single Point of Contact’ for homes) were assigned to every children’s home to develop relationships with staff and providers. This helped with reinforcement of information and messages from the workshops. It improved understanding between police and homes and facilitated communication. Improved relationships meant that SPOCs were able to sit down with staff, talk about any issues and come up with strategies for helping homes to reduce call-outs.

The Norfolk YOT offered children’s homes residential managers direct access to urgent support in relation to individual young people to prevent unnecessary criminalisation. In addition, staff working in children’s homes were offered restorative sessions to explore the impact of young people’s challenging behaviours and to address their needs as carers.

District leads received a monthly data package detailing call-outs from children’s homes in their areas, highlighting changes in figures and any incidents, crimes or children that required special attention.

As mentioned above, this comprehensive, focused approach achieved rapid improvements. Not only were children more likely to be dealt with restoratively than with a formal criminal justice outcome but care workers were less likely to call the police in the first place.

Olivia Pinkney’s child-centred policing message “every interaction leaves a mark”, has been absorbed and drives efforts to reduce unnecessary police contact

After the National protocol for reducing criminalisation of children in care and care leavers was published by the Department for Education in November 2018, Norfolk Police and partners decided to refresh their protocol to bring it into line with the national standards and focus on core principles. In order to further develop and build on the achievements made so far, more partners were approached, including mental and physical health, education and the Crown Prosecution Service. Thought is being put into the roles and responsibilities of each partner and working guidelines drawn up to set down what everyone would do, how they would do it and who each would work with.

The multi-agency working group continues to work hard at educating staff in homes and other relevant professionals across Norfolk, something they’re aware they need to keep on top of given levels of staff turnover. Training has continued during the coronavirus pandemic. More courses are on offer and the uptake has been excellent with around 400 people attending a recent session on gangs, vulnerability and child criminal exploitation – testament to local commitments and communication. There’s another session on the National Referral Mechanism coming up and one covering social media and grooming.

Work has also been done at call centre level, so that when homes phone the police they are challenged appropriately about the need or otherwise for police attendance.

In the last eighteen months, a Multi-Agency Child Exploitation (MACE) team has been set up in the county to tackle child sexual and criminal exploitation. The looked-after children working group is working closely with this team to enhance their work and prevent overlap of effort. They’re currently looking at working with taxi firms to put checks and balances in place and how to improve homes’ understanding of and responses to risks to children of exploitation.

There are some big problems that the team are struggling with, such as the difficulty identifying and engaging with unregulated providers and the on-going problems facing children in out-of-area placements. The county is also, like many other forces, reporting a rise in the numbers of child arrests, a trend that we’ll be reporting on and exploring in our forthcoming briefing on child arrests.

Many looked-after children have been protected from unnecessary criminalisation thanks to the work of Norfolk Police and partners. We look forward to hearing how work being done to educate homes and identify and support victims of child exploitation further improves the lives and prospects of children in residential care in Norfolk.

For more information on effective policing of children’s homes and using police data to tackle criminalisation, see our briefings: Best practice in policing and Know your Numbers.

Claire Sands and Inspector Julia Sandell, Norfolk Police

[1] NB data is only collected on children who had been in care for that care period for 12 months or more

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