Saturday, 22 August 2015

The unnecessary criminalisation of children in residential care

You don’t have to live or work in Northern Ireland to be interested in an excellent report by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission examining the rights of children in care.

The report covers issues such as moving looked after children, delays in the adoption process, children’s and young people’s feelings of powerlessness and their strong sense that they are often excluded from decision making about their care and their futures. The report strongly evinces the right of the child to be heard and taken seriously.

There is a very good summary of the report in Family Law Week

The part of the report that particularly caught my eye, however, concerned the criminalisation of children who live in children’s homes. The report says (page 158) that some young people in residential care are “… being penalised for offences in a way that they would not if they resided with their parents”.  This appears to result from the practice of calling the police out to deal with incidents that occur within residential homes, something that the authors of the report believe “…should only occur as a measure of last resort, and that the focus should be on finding alternative means of dealing with incidents”.  They believe that “… the practice of police involvement and potential subsequent engagement with the youth justice system had profound negative implications for young people’s subsequent life chances”.

This reminded me of one of my posts last month relating to the findings of a recent report about policing in the whole of the United Kingdom, (In harm's way: The role of the police in keeping children safe – July 2015), which stated:

“We were surprised to find examples of children who had been accused of offences such as pushing a sibling, criminal damage in their (own) children’s home, or for wasting police time by running away from home. Sometimes, children were accused of lying or perverting the course of justice when their accounts of offences against them were disbelieved.” (Page 11)

Two reports in two months pointing to the same very undesirable practice is more than just coincidence; it is worrying. As a matter of urgency, somebody somewhere needs to follow up these concerns and put in place steps to ensure that looked after children are not unnecessarily criminalised.