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25 Oct 2016

Howard League launches Programme to End the Criminalisation of Children in Residential Care

A major drive to end the criminalisation of children living in residential homes will be launched today (Tuesday 25 October) by the Howard League for Penal Reform.

The two-year programme will be led by the charity with support from an advisory board, to be chaired by the Rt Hon Michael Gove MP, a former Secretary of State at both Justice and Education.

Exploring best practice within the police service and the residential care sector, it will build on the charity’s work to keep as many boys and girls as possible out of the criminal justice system.

The project follows research, published by the Howard League in March, which found that children living in children’s homes were being criminalised at higher rates than other boys and girls, including those in other types of care.

Children aged 13 to 15 living in children’s homes were found to be almost six times as likely to be criminalised as looked after children of the same age in other placements – and almost 20 times more likely to be criminalised than non-looked after children.

The Howard League’s research also highlighted a potential systemic problem that led residential care staff to resort to the police, often over minor incidents that would never come to officers’ attention if they happened in family homes.

The two-year programme will investigate how the best children’s homes in the country support children, as well as identifying outstanding work by police forces to divert children from the criminal justice system.

Children in care will be interviewed as part of the programme, to ensure that their views shape policy.

The work will build on the Howard League’s successful campaign to improve policing of children, which has contributed to a 59 per cent reduction in child arrests in only five years across England and Wales.

The number of looked after children in England and Wales is at its highest point for more than 30 years.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “We are delighted to announce this important programme of work, which will build on our existing expertise on the policing of children and respond to concerns that police forces themselves have highlighted to us on the criminalisation of children in residential care.

“There are two major questions we shall seek to answer. Firstly, how can children’s homes be encouraged to manage children’s behaviour without recourse to the police? And secondly, in those cases when the police are called out to homes, what can be done to avoid a child being unnecessarily criminalised?

“I am particularly pleased to welcome the involvement of Michael Gove, who has spoken so eloquently in the past about doing the best for troubled children in our society.”

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.
  2. Criminal Care: Children’s homes and criminalising children, a research briefing published by the Howard League in March 2016, can be found on the charity’s website.


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