Criminal Care? · 5 Nov 2019
Howard League recommendations for better data raised in parliament
We are grateful to Steve Reed MP for raising the importance of collecting and using data to address the criminalisation of children in care through Parliamentary Questions to the Department for Education and the Home Office in recent weeks.
As we have repeatedly reported, the data on the number of children criminalised whilst in residential care is incomplete because the government collects information only on children who have been in care for twelve months or more. Mr Reed raised this point with the Secretary of State for Education asking if his Department would take steps to change reporting on criminalisation data on children in care to all children in care and not just those who had been in care for a year or more.
His request was refused by Michelle Donelan who stated:
“The 12 month period is considered an appropriate length of time to gauge an association between the outcome (whether that be education, health, wellbeing or criminalisation) and care status.”
“Furthermore, in certain circumstances, children can become looked-after as a direct result of criminal justice decisions, for example, when remanded to local authority accommodation following arrest.”
(Full PQ available here)
This response fails to take into account the fact that data is essential not just to monitor outcomes but also to help identify and address issues affecting children whilst they are in care. In the year ending 31 March 2018, 63,440 children aged 10 to 17 years old were in care at some point. Only 58 per cent of this cohort (36,760 children) were in care continuously for at least 12 months. There is, therefore, no data on the levels of criminalisation for over 40 per cent of children above the age of criminal responsibility (26,680 children) who were in care during that year. This is unacceptable and it doesn’t make sense.
A further question from Mr Reed, this time directed at the Home Office, highlighted the importance of using data to tackle criminalisation and improve safeguarding responses. Our briefing Know your numbers: using data to monitor and address criminalisation (July 2019 not 2018 as stated on Hansard) was quoted by Mr Reed as his source of reference:
“To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, with reference to the (a) July 2018 (sic) Howard League for Penal Reform publication, Know your numbers: using data to monitor and address criminalisation and (b) work of Durham police who are using data as part of a programme of work with children’s homes, if she will make an assessment of the potential merits of using data to help reduce criminalisation and safeguard children living in children’s homes.”
Kit Malthouse responded in the affirmative. He referred to the national protocol on reducing the unnecessary criminalisation of looked-after children and care leavers published by the Home Office, the Department for Education and the Ministry of Justice “which stresses the importance of the development of strong understanding of local data and circumstances in reducing criminalisation, offending and reoffending”.
(Full PQ available here).
Criminalisation can be an important indicator of exploitation; we need robust data to help us make the links
The importance of understanding what is happening to children whilst in care was highlighted in the debate organised by Ann Coffey MP at Westminster Hall last week on children who go missing from care (23 October – full text here) which Mr Reed also took part in. MPs discussed concerns about the criminal exploitation of children in care, with Ms Coffey referencing our submission to the inquiry she had launched into out-of-area placements.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prison’s report on Feltham Young Offenders Institution published last week (30 October) stated that 82 per cent of the children in that prison were known to social services. It is essential that we have as complete a picture as possible of the levels of criminalisation of children in care so that we can understand the extent and nature of the problem we are dealing with. We urge the Department for Education to listen to Mr Reed and to follow the advice in its own protocol by starting to collect and publish data on the criminalisation of all children who spend time in care.
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Whilst its important to understand what is happening to all children in care and data needs to reflect this , its also just as important to know what they did before entering care and after.
Without this the information on just whilst in care is almost irrelevant.
A young person could offend every week in care but this could be a positive outcome as they were previously offending daily prior to entering care.
Likewise they may offended only twice per year in care having never offended before.
The majority of care providers do not criminalise children and only do this as a last resort. It is not in their or the childrens interests to do so.