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Criminal Care? · 16 Dec 2020

Good practice in reducing child arrests in Dyfed-Powys

This week marks the publication of the Howard League’s annual child arrests briefing. In 2010, the year we published our first briefing, there were almost a quarter of a million arrests of children in England and Wales. We are delighted to report that there has been a 71 per cent reduction since, to 71,885 in 2019.

Our Chief Executive, Frances Crook has blogged about the work we have done with the police over the last ten years and how that has contributed to massive reductions in child arrests in every police force area.

“it is fantastic news that each year fewer and fewer children have had their lives blighted by experiencing an unnecessary arrest and police are able to devote their resources to dealing with more serious issues.” Frances Crook, Chief Executive, Howard League for Penal Reform

2019 saw a small but worrying creep upwards in the overall numbers of child arrests for the first time since 2010. 22 forces saw small increases, leading to a national rise of just under two per cent. Operations to tackle county lines and high numbers of new, inexperienced frontline officers were cited by forces as factors contributing to the increases in child arrests in 2019.

Our discussions with chief constables about these increases and our analysis of the data shows how vital it is that forces are closely monitoring their own child arrests data to identify problem areas. This data should also be used to inform strategic oversight and to help create cultures and management that is focused on preventing unnecessary arrests of children.

Dyfed-Powys Police is one of the forces where robust monitoring of the numbers of child arrests is helping to keep children out of the criminal justice system. The force has achieved an extremely impressive decrease of 83 per cent in the numbers of child arrests in its area since 2010 and it continued to make reductions between 2018 and 2019.

Detailed analysis of its child arrests data, driven by a focus on implementing the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s child-centred policing strategy, identified residential care as an area of concern in Dyfed-Powys. Research and analysis were conducted to help the force better understand what was driving calls from homes. Relationships were fostered with local partners to develop a unified approach to tackling the problem and to ensure that the right services were available as and when children needed them.

A 10-point plan was drawn up with the Crown Prosecution Service. The plan directs officers and supervisors to look at options other than arrest for children living in residential care. If a child is arrested, that arrest will be reviewed in detail the following day. The police look at the disciplinary record of that home and review the policies that are in place to handle incidents. They seek the views of social workers, counsellors, mental health experts and the YOT, as appropriate for both the child who has been accused of the offence and the alleged victim.

Named officers have been assigned to each home. They visit homes twice a month, getting to know how the home is run and building relationships with staff. They work collaboratively with homes to address issues, such as under-staffing and problems with protocols and behaviour management. They will also identify any children who may be at risk. Dyfed-Powys has a lot of children living in out-of-area placements and there have been concerns with children trying to get back to their home areas and finding themselves in unsafe situations.

Missing incidents were identified as one of the main reasons for homes to call the police. The police inspected homes’ logs for calls to the police related to missing incidents and found significant discrepancies with their own, for example one home had called the police 22 times but had only recorded four of those calls in their own log. The force now provides a monthly spreadsheet to Care Inspectorate Wales (CIW), the body responsible for monitoring children’s homes in Wales, detailing all the calls they have received from homes that month and any other relevant information. It was agreed with CIW that three calls in a month from any home would trigger a joint inspection by the police and CIW.

A “twilight sanctuary” has been set up with local health boards and good relationships fostered with social services

Relationships with local partners are excellent. It is rare now that there is no-one to call from partnership agencies when a child is identified as being in trouble. This is hugely important in reducing police contact with children.

Performance of officers is closely managed and good practice is cascaded down to the front line. Learning from reviews of the circumstances surrounding all child arrests is shared anonymously. Officers are given training in problem-solving and encouraged to consider options other than arrest. There are regular debriefing sessions between officers, sergeants and inspectors to explore problem-solving processes and think about what could have been done differently.

The work has significantly reduced the level of police contact with children from homes; one home saw a reduction of 75 per cent in the numbers of calls it made in approximately three months.

The right mind-set is key to adopting a non-criminal justice approach to children who come into contact with the police wherever possible

The force is aware that its relatively small size makes the kind of work detailed above easier to set up and manage. That may be the case but the progress the force has made is impressive nonetheless. It undoubtedly rests on a force mind-set, and senior management expectations, that seek to avoid taking criminal justice routes wherever possible.

For more information about the work being done in Dyfed-Powys, please contact Chief Inspector Chris Neve at chris.neve@dyfed-powys.pnn.police.uk.

Child arrests in England and Wales 2019: research briefing

Claire Sands

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