A History of Criminalisation

Care Experienced History Month 2022

Care Experienced History Month takes place April every year with the message that:

Care Experienced people have been a part of societies across the world for as long as can be remembered.

For our part we want to highlight the history of Drive Forward’s Policy Forum’s campaign on criminalisation. 

Why Criminalisation?

Drive Forward’s Policy Forum is a group to be reckoned with. It currently has 60 members all of whom are care-experienced young people from across the country. The forum’s focus is to communicate the disconnect between policy makers, parliamentarians and the lived experiences of those in and leaving care. 

Currently we have 3 campaign groups all of which were democratically elected by the young people as subjects they think are most in need of campaigning on. The longest running campaign, is the fight around reducing the unnecessary criminalisation of care-experienced people. Looked after children are more likely to experience criminalisation due to unnecessary police call outs in children’s homes or foster care.

To give an idea of the issue of criminalisation surrounding care-experienced young people it means that around half of the children currently in custody in England and Wales have been in care at some point. 

Children aged 16 and 17 living in children’s homes are at least 15 times more likely to be criminalised than other children of the same age.

The Howard League for Penal Reform

Opportunities for Criminalisation

Care-experienced young people may carry trauma that is often unresolved and with the act of being taken into care being traumatic, there can be a lack of understanding around their experience and behaviour whilst in residential care and beyond. However, some argue that there are also higher rates of gang grooming and easier access to drugs in residential care which can contribute to increased criminalisation charges.

Care leavers are estimated to represent 25% of the adult prison population, even though less than 1% of under 18s enter the care of local authorities each year

Looked-after Children: The Silent Crisis

How it Began

In 2019, when the Policy Forum began to discuss the issue of criminalisation of children in care and care leavers. They were influenced by both their own experiences and also extensive research conducted by the Howard League for Penal Reform. When the Howard League started to look at the issue, children in care were 15 times more likely to be criminalised than their peers. This was due to a range of factors, one of the most significant being that residential home staff and foster carers were likely to call the police for incidents that would almost never receive policy intervention in the ‘family home’.

Can you imagine the police being called because you were trying to access food after hours or were five minutes late back to your foster carers?

For some of our care-experienced young people:  

  • They have felt that the police have never viewed them as children but only listened to the staff or foster carers during callouts.   
  • They felt as though the reaction of the police were always disproportionately high or escalated situations.  
  • They have felt as though the police were used as a form of punishment for behaviour that should have been resolved by domestic family standards. 

What can also arise from police involvement in minor call outs is that care-experienced young people might not know they now have a criminal record until it becomes a barrier to employment when they leave the care system.  

Suddenly an argument with a foster carer when they were 14 is now the reason they cannot begin their career or live independently.

Lived Experience

A lot of the research found in the Howard League research resonated with the lived experience of our young people who have experience living in residential care homes. So the Policy Forum hosted an event in September 2019 at City Hall, in which they brought together all relevant London stakeholders such as the Crown Prosecution Service, various local councils, the Metropolitan Police and youth justice organisations. Through panels, presentations and even a film, they presented the issue from their perspective (whilst also getting professional input from the Howard League and criminal barristers). As a result of the event, the London Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime, Sophie Linden, agreed to work with us to establish a London-wide protocol to reduce criminalisation.   

From Autumn 2019, Policy Forum members would regular meeting with Sophie Linden’s office (MOPAC) and others to construct this protocol. It was to be aimed at social workers, residential home workers and police to provide all parties with alternatives to criminalisation wherever possible.   

Immediate Effect

In March 2021, the protocol was published, along with a summary aimed at young people as suggested by Policy Forum members. In the months since then, the Metropolitan Police have reported a reduction in the number of police call-outs from residential children’s homes in London, proving the effectiveness and need of such a protocol 

Criminal justice intervention might resolve an immediate problem, it can create further problems over the long term that ultimately undermine the ambitions of the care system. Having a criminal record can affect employment, education, access to finance, housing, insurance and the ability to travel internationally. It can affect people’s mental and physical health and it can impact on relationships through adulthood. For someone who is, or has been, in care, a criminal record can compound all the other difficulties they have to overcome.

Reducing criminalisation of looked-after children and care leavers A Protocol for London

Our Mission

For Drive Forward our mission is to enable care-experienced young people to achieve their full potential through sustainable and fulfilling employment. However, if the pathway to employment is blocked by previous experiences of unfair criminalisation, it is something that must be addressed for any care-experienced to be able to live a successful and independent life. Since the protocol’s creation, Drive Forward has been and continues to disseminate this information through regular briefings with children care homes, police and Local Authorities from all over the country to ensure that current looked after children won’t face the same cycle of challenges.  

Further Changes

The next step in bringing further change is that our Policy Forum is in the middle of drafting guidance for barristers on how to best represent care-experienced young people in custody and court. Read more on the training we have delivered to the Garden Court Chambers here. 

Our Policy Forum want and mission is to end the unnecessary criminalisation of young care-experienced people and they won’t stop until that is achieved.

Want to learn more about Policy Forum?

Drive Forward facilitates a Policy Forum of care-experienced campaigners who use their lived experience to fight for change so that future children in care and care leavers get a better deal. Their mission is to bridge the disconnect between care-experienced young people and policy makers in order to achieve effective change and equality of opportunity for care leavers

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