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Children's homes call police 200 times in a year

Howard League for Penal Reform warns that nearly half the calls to police from children’s homes in 2018 were in response to children going missing

Published on 12th July 2019

Police forces were called out 23,000 times to children's homes in 2018, the Howard League for Penal Reform has warned.

Some children's homes in parts of England are calling the police as many as 200 times a year, while others do not call the police at all, the figures show.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “A child living in residential care has more often than not experienced a range of problems early in life, from acute family stress to abuse and neglect. These children need nurture and support, not repeated contact with the police and criminalisation.

“But our research shows that some children’s homes are picking up the phone again and again over matters that would never involve the police if they happened in a family home.

“While the figures we publish today show there is some way to go before the police and children’s homes properly understand the scale of the problem, official figures from the Department for Education suggest the efforts of the Howard League and others are now having an impact. We need to see everyone build on this, with more action to stop children in residential care having their lives blighted with a criminal record," she added.

The Howard League sent Freedom of Information Act requests to all police forces in England and Wales, asking for data for call-outs from children’s homes. Twenty-six forces were able to provide data.

Five police forces reported having a home in their area that had called them more than 200 times:-

- Derbyshire reported 267 call-outs

- South Yorkshire reported 253 call outs

- Humberside had a children's home which called police 235 times

- A home in Suffolk called police 209 times

- Northumbria reported 207 call outs.

Most forces reported having been called out more than 100 times by individual homes.
Nearly half the calls to police from children’s homes in 2018 were in response to children going missing. Missing incidents appear to be a factor in high rates of criminalisation, for reasons that are complex and individual to each child. Some children will be going missing because they are being criminally exploited, perhaps in order to run drugs. Others will be criminalised as a result of having gone missing, perhaps trying to get home such as stealing to survive.

However, the briefing suggests that, although some children’s homes are calling the police excessively, efforts to reduce criminalisation are now having an impact. The proportion of children formally criminalised while in residential care was reduced from 15 per cent to 10 per cent between 2014 and 2018.

The Howard League says this is a step in the right direction and calls on children’s homes, police and the government to do more to prevent criminalisation. The charity began campaigning on the issue in 2016 after government figures revealed that children living in children’s homes were more likely to be criminalised than other children, including those in other types of care placement.

Cllr Anntoinette Bramble, Chair of the Local Government Association’s Children and Young People Board, said: “Councils and their partners have been working hard to reduce the criminalisation of children in care, and it is positive to see this work having a real impact.

“However, as this report rightly shows, there is clearly more still to be done, and councils will continue to drive improvements with the support of the police, children's home providers and others to prevent more children in residential care being unnecessarily criminalised.

“Some calls to the police are genuine concerns for the welfare of a child in their care. It is always extremely worrying when a child goes missing from care and councils are working hard to keep children safe and give them the support they need.

"However, significant increases in demand for child protection services, alongside funding cuts from central government, mean that children’s services face a £3.1 billion funding gap by 2025.

“This is preventing councils from investing at the level they would like in the accommodation and support options needed to provide the best and most appropriate help for all children and young people.

“This is why it is essential that government uses the forthcoming Spending Review to address the £3.1 billion shortfall in children’s services by 2025," she concluded.

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