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Criminal Care? · 15 Mar 2019

Good practice in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent

This post reports how a multi-agency team in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent analysed local data in order to understand criminalisation of children in care in their areas.

In our good practice in policing briefing we used an example of work done by West Mercia Police to show how analysis of data held within forces could help the police identify children’s homes that were regularly calling the police. The improved understanding enabled the police to work with homes to address issues with a view to reducing call-outs and criminalisation. The officer leading the work in West Mercia was Jennie Mattinson. Jennie has recently moved to Staffordshire Police to take up the post of Detective Superintendent and Head of Partnerships & Safeguarding. She contacted us towards the end of last year to invite us to meet her new team and present our work to a multi-agency meeting in Stoke-on-Trent.

In December we attended the Stoke-on-Trent Children, Young Person and Families Partnership Board in Stoke’s beautifully restored council building to talk to practitioners from the police, the county council, health and youth justice agencies. We found that professionals were well apprised of the problem of disproportionate criminalisation of children in residential care. In 2017, a multi-agency group in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent had conducted a research project with a view to understanding why children in care in their areas were over represented in the criminal justice system.

Looked-after children who are formally criminalised are more likely to be in residential care

The report they produced included some interesting data. Data – the lack of it – is an issue that we are addressing in the programme, so we are always delighted to come across data analysis that has been done by local agencies that can help throw light on the limited evidence available nationally.

The findings of the report are very much in line with those of our own research. The analysis of police and other data showed that that looked-after children who are formally criminalised are more likely to be in residential children’s homes rather than other care placements and to have experienced more placement changes. They are also more likely to have been reported missing from care placements and on more occasions than children who have not been criminalised during the year.

The report provides significant insight into the issue of criminalisation. Some of the key findings are set out below.

Understanding why looked after children in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent are over represented in the Criminal Justice System (July 2017)

Number of looked after children in the two areas

Reflecting national trends, the numbers of children coming into care in Stoke and Staffordshire have been increasing in recent years. On 31 March 2016, the two areas had corporate parental responsibility for 1,635 local children. Additionally, during 2015/16, over 900 children were placed in Stoke and Staffordshire from other local authority areas.

Rates of criminalisation

The rates of crime during 2015/16 were significantly higher amongst children in care compared to the general population across Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent:

In Staffordshire there were 4,500 offences by 10-17 year olds in 2015/16 of which 13 per cent (about 570) were coded as a child in care. This equated to 437 offences per 1,000 looked after children, which was significantly higher (around seven times higher) than the rate of 60 per 1,000 children in the total population.

For Stoke-on-Trent there were 2,200 offences by 10-17 year olds in 2015/16 of which 5 per cent (about 120) were coded as a child in care. This equated to a rate of 131 offences per 1,000 looked after children which is also higher than the 101 offences per 1,000 children aged 10-17 in the general population.

The data revealed that around three-quarters of children not in care committed only one crime in 2015/16. The picture is very different for children in care with 27 per cent committing only one offence and much higher proportions committing three or more offences. Around one in five children in care committed six or more crimes during the year.

Offending rates amongst children from other local authorities

Data from Staffordshire Youth Offending Services (YOS) gave an insight into how many of the children who were placed into the area by other local authorities were coming into contact with the criminal justice system. The YOS worked with 550 children in 2015/16; of this number around a third of children were looked after children and within this group over two-fifths (42 per cent) came from other areas.

Types of offences committed

The report looked at the types of offences children in care were being charged with and compared this to charges against children who were not in care. The findings showed that around 55 per cent of offences relating to children in care involved the use of violence – 28 per cent less serious violent crime with injury and 28 per cent recorded as more serious violence against the person. A significantly higher proportion of children in care were charged with criminal damage offences than children who were not in care.

Recorded offence type for children and young people aged 10-17 in Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent, 2015/16

Residential care compared to other placement types

Over one in three Staffordshire children living in a children’s home committed an offence in 2015/16. This compared with only six per cent of children in foster placements. This trend was also seen in Stoke-on-Trent where around 29 per cent of those living in children’s homes committed a crime in 2015/16 compared to one per cent of those in foster homes.

Placement stability

The data showed that around 31 per cent of Staffordshire children who had three or more placements offended during 2015/16 compared with eight per cent who did not move during the year. A similar pattern was seen for Stoke-on-Trent where around one in five children (22 per cent) who had three or more placements offended compared with only eight per cent of children who had remained in placement throughout the year.

Missing incidents

A significantly higher proportion of children who had been criminalised had gone missing from their care placements during 2015/16 compared to those that had not been criminalised (47 per cent compared with eight per cent). Looked-after children who had offended also went missing more frequently with 34 per cent of the group going missing more than once compared to only three per cent of looked after children who had not offended.

Other points of interest

The analysis showed that children in care were more likely than children who are not in care to commit offences in November. It was surmised that this might have something to do with the difficult build up to Christmas for children who were not with their families during this time.

Tuesdays and Wednesdays were the most common days for children in care to be apprehended whereas Fridays was the most common day for children who were not in care to come into contact with the police.

A significantly higher proportion of offences were recorded as being committed by children in care between 1pm and 3pm, between 6pm and 7pm and between 10pm and midnight. The report stated that anecdotal evidence suggested that ‘anti-social behaviour’ usually happened before education in the morning and towards the end of school days as some young people struggled to maintain attention all day. Meal times could also be disruptive and during the evenings there could be resistance to curfew times and bedtimes.

Conversely a higher proportion of offences were committed by those not known to be in care between 3pm and 7pm (peaking between 3pm and 4pm around the time school finishes) and between midnight and 1am.

Learning from young people

Consultation with young people conducted by Staffordshire County Council’s YOS Voice Project in October 2016 found that many young people were able to relate offending behaviour either to their experiences or to what they had seen other young people do in residential settings they had lived in. This found that some children and young people, when they first come into care or move to a new area, got into trouble in the home or the local community because they were experiencing emotions such as anger, sadness or confusion.

Some young people felt that having hobbies, coping strategies or care staff that could support them better with moving could reduce offending behaviour. When young people are moving into care (or are moving to different areas), good support from practitioners including Youth Offending Services and social workers can make the transition easier for the young person. Regular and reliable communication, being listened to and receiving answers to questions were key aspects which could encourage a smoother transition for children and young people.

Our work

The Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent report demonstrates how important it is to collect and analyse data in order to understand and tackle the problem of disproportionate criminalisation of children in residential care. We will shortly be focusing our own efforts on trying to establish a national picture. We encourage local areas to conduct their own in-depth, multi-agency analysis as Staffordshire and Stoke have done in order to address issues in their areas and protect children from unnecessary criminalisation.

Claire Sands


  • Gina Lewis says:

    Interesting reading. I have a relative who recently worked in a private children’s care home for the first time and I was horrified by what he witnessed. Poorly,underpaid, understaffed,poorly trained staff. Vulnerable girls knowingly being sexually exploited for drugs. 13 hour shifts, no consistency of staff, poor restraint practices etc etc. When you consider the cost to society alone this needs urgently looking at and changing!

  • Diana E Forrest says:

    Are they committing more offences because they are in a care home or are the offences they commit a reason why placements with a family don’t work out?

  • James Keeley says:

    Very important work. Well done.

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