Skip Content

24 Sep 2019

Guide to help lawyers advocate for looked-after children at the police station

A step-by-step guide is published today (Tuesday 24 September) to help lawyers advocate effectively for looked-after children at the police station.

The Howard League for Penal Reform and the Youth Justice Legal Centre at Just for Kids Law have worked together to produce the document, which offers guidance on practical steps that lawyers should take to ensure that looked-after children receive the support and assistance they need and are entitled to.

Looked-after children, and particularly those living in residential care, are disproportionately criminalised, compared to other children. They are less likely to receive support from family members or another trusted adult at the police station, and they should be entitled to additional protections set out in law, policy and guidance.

The guide, titled Representing looked-after children at the police station, provides information about the growing number of children coming into care and takes lawyers through the factors that can contribute to their criminalisation.

It then moves on to practical advice, including: how to review the decision to arrest or hold a child in custody; how to communicate effectively with a child; how to advocate for a child’s basic rights and entitlements; how to support a child at interview; how to consider whether a child is a victim of exploitation; how to make representations to the police and the Crown Prosecution Service; and how to make sure that a child’s community care needs are met.

Laura Janes, Legal Director at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The over-representation of looked-after children in the criminal justice system is a disgrace that has been known about for years.

“This guide brings together policy and practice to empower lawyers at the police station to take practical steps to counter this trend.”

Laura Cooper, Co-Head of the Youth Justice Legal Centre at Just for Kids Law, said: “Just because a child doesn’t grow up in a traditional family setting is no reason for them not to be able to reach their potential and fulfil their dreams, but we often find that children in care get dragged into the criminal justice system.

“Repeated contact with the police and other criminal justice agencies sees many of these highly vulnerable children being unnecessarily criminalised, including some ending up in prison. This means they are drawn into a strong current of crime from which it is difficult to escape.

“We hope the new guide will make more youth justice lawyers aware of the tools at their disposal for avoiding the unnecessary criminalisation of children in care.”

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  1. The Howard League is running a programme to end the criminalisation of children in residential care. More information about the programme can be found on the charity’s website.
  1. Just for Kids Law is a charity that works with and for children and young people to hold those with power to account and fight for wider reform by providing legal representation and advice, direct advocacy and support, and campaigning to ensure children and young people in the UK have their legal rights and entitlements respected and promoted, and their voices heard and valued.
  1. The Youth Justice Legal Centre has been set up by Just for Kids Law to provide legally accurate information, guidance and training on youth justice law. It provides legal overviews, specialist training, a discussion forum and expert advice for barristers, solicitors and legal executives representing children in the youth justice system.
  1. Representing looked-after children at the police station: a step-by-step guide for lawyers can be read online.


Rob Preece
Campaigns and Communications Manager
Howard League for Penal Reform
Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7880
Mobile: +44 (0)7714 604955

ISDN line available on 020 7923 4196 – uses a G722 system

  • Join the Howard League

    We are the world's oldest prison charity, bringing people together to advocate for change.

    Join us and make your voice heard
  • Support our work

    We safeguard our independence and do not accept any funding from government.

    Make a donation