The purpose of this paper is to describe the current policy context for work aimed at reducing the criminalisation of looked after children in England and Wales, and to consider the potential that now exists for a sustained reduction in the numbers and proportion of looked after children and young people becoming unnecessarily criminalised.
The author of this paper worked on the Prison Reform Trust’s independent review of looked after children in the criminal justice system, “In Care, Out of Trouble”, chaired by Lord Laming. The paper describes the context for the review and outlines its findings alongside those of concurrent government-commissioned reviews, detailing the government response. The paper describes the action now being taken to reduce the criminalisation of looked after children and argues that, while the UK and Welsh governments appear willing to lead in pursuing reforms, continued pressure will be needed to ensure that this translates into sustained change.
The paper notes that looked after children and young people remain significantly over represented in the criminal justice system despite a number of studies and statutory guidance aimed at preventing this. This is being successfully tackled in places where children’s social care services are working closely with criminal justice agencies, with common goals. The paper reports on the responses from the Welsh and UK governments and lead agencies to Lord Laming’s review and concurrent government-commissioned reviews, which confirm their willingness to show national leadership in raising expectations for effective local joint working.
The paper offers an insight into the current policy context for protecting looked after children and young people from unnecessary criminalisation and sets out the commitments that have been made by the UK and Welsh governments and national agencies to take action to this end. It notes the need for ongoing outside pressure to ensure these commitments translate into action.
This paper aims to support policy makers and practitioners in pursuing improvements in practice to protect looked after children from unnecessary criminalisation. As such, it is hoped that it may play a part in improving the life chances of looked after children and young people who might otherwise face the damaging consequences of involvement in the criminal justice system.
Lord Laming’s review was a timely, independent examination of the unnecessary criminalisation of looked after children. There is now a renewed focus in key government departments and agencies on the need to protect looked after children and young people from unnecessary criminalisation, including through the development of a concordat. Success will require ongoing dialogue with independent bodies, and a stronger focus by the relevant inspectorates. This paper summarises the context and findings of the review and subsequent policy developments, and may be useful for policy makers, practitioners in children’s social care and youth justice, and the police.
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