Up to half of the 1,000 children in custody have had experience of being in care, a review chaired by Lord Laming for the Prison Reform Trust has found.
The review was launched in June 2015 with the aim of considering the over representation of children in care, or with experience of care, in the youth justice system and how the life opportunities of these young people can be transformed.
More than six out of 10 of looked after children in England and Wales (61%) were in care due to neglect or abuse. Only a small minority – 2% and 4% of children in England and Wales respectively – were in care due to socially unacceptable behaviour (such as offending).
The overwhelming majority of children in care in England (94%) did not get into trouble with the law. Despite this, the review concluded that children in care in England were six times more likely to be cautioned or convicted of an offence than children not in care. Furthermore, the report considered that children in care might be at greater risk of receiving a conviction, as opposed to a caution, if they came to the attention of the police.
According to the review, it costs over £200,000 to keep a young person in a secure children’s home for a year. Detention in an under-18 young offender institution costs £60,000 per year.
‘Since July 2013 I have been to 16 schools and I have been in 15 different placements all around the country…all of my offending has been whilst in care.’
Review panel member, aged 15 years
Unpublished data by the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales that shows more than four out of 10 (44%) of looked after children in custody are from an ethnic minority background. This is more than one and a half times the proportions in both the general population and the looked after population.
The review recommended the formation of a cabinet sub-committee in England, or equivalent body in Wales, to help protect young people in care from unnecessary criminalisation. It stressed the need for early support for children and families, rather than waiting until the first evidence of criminal behaviour by a young person.
The review called for more effective joint working between families, local authorities, youth offending services, child and adolescent mental health services, the police and other criminal justice agencies
The number of young people moving from care into the criminal justice system could be substantially reduced; as a result of effective local practice in Surrey over a four-year period there was as much as a 45% reduction. Good practice can lead to a significant reduction in long-term costs; the review cited the Youth Restorative Evaluation Summary Report which calculated a return of £3.41 for every £1 invested.
An executive summary of the report can be read here.
Sam is a pupil barrister at 1 Pump Court Chambers, specialising in criminal defence, family law and prison law. Sam has previously worked as a county court advocate and as a welfare benefits adviser for a Citizens Advice Bureau