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Children’s home providers risk criminalising young people with excessive police use

Children’s homes are being increasingly left in the hands of private companies who risk criminalising young people by calling in the police unnecessarily, a prisons charity have warned.

‘Criminal Care’, the new report from the Howard League for Penal Reform, says that children in care are much more likely to be criminalised than others. Among children aged 10 to 12 who have been in a home continuously for at least a year, 4.2% have been convicted or subject to a youth conviction, compared to 0.3% in other forms of social care. The criminalisation rate rises throughout children’s teenage years to 19.7% among 16-17 year olds, making them twice as likely to have been in contact with police as children in other forms of social care and nearly 20 times more likely than non-looked after children. In 2015, 37% of the children in young offender institutions were looked after children, although they make up less than 1% of the population.

The report also says that increasingly large numbers of children’s homes are being run by private companies. According to the most recent figures, in 2014 there were 1,760 children’s homes in England, 73% of which were run by private companies. Local authorities ran 21% and charities ran 6%. The largest 20 companies own 37% of all local authority children’s homes.

The increased privatisation has been introduced partly to meet an increasing demand for care. In 2014-15, 99,230 children were looked after by the state at some point and the number is believed to be at the highest point since 1985. In 2014, 5,220 children were living in children’s homes.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League, said: “These children have been taken into care because they are in dire need and their parents cannot, or will not, look after them.

“They are wonderful young people who have had a really bad start in life. They deserve every chance to flourish.

“Private companies, charities and local authorities that are paid a fortune by the taxpayer should give these children what they need and deserve.”

Police called to children’s homes for minor incidents

The report’s author made Freedom of Information requests to all police forces in England and Wales asking for the number of times police were called to children’s homes, and the number of arrests resulting. All the forces reported difficulties in finding the data because there were no identifiers for incidents at children’s homes and data for call-outs and arrests are held separately.

However, although the data is flawed and partial, it suggests a high rate of call-outs, with Avon and Somerset reporting 1,413 in 2012-15 and West Mercia reporting 5,846. There were an estimated 812 incidents at homes owned by five private children’s homes providers in 2015.

A 2013 House of Commons Justice Report recommended that local authorities, children’s homes and prosecutors do more to prevent the unnecessary criminalisation of children in care, stating that children’s homes were calling the police for minor offences that would never have required police intervention in a family home. On one occasion police were called to investigate a broken cup.

A 2015 report from HM Inspectorate of Constabulary said that children’s homes were using police to discipline children by calling them in when they were unable to cope with children’s disruptive behaviour.

Children were also being regularly detained in police cells overnight, with police saying that children’s homes were using police cells as respite to cover a lack of trained staff and refusing to take children back if they were arrested at night, and that on some occasions police were refusing to return children to homes owing to safety concerns.

Deputy Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney, the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) lead on children and young people, and Temporary Chief Constable Nick Ephgrave, the NPCC lead on custody, said: “It is vital that all agencies work together more effectively and more determinedly to get their response right. The police should not be called to minor incidents which would otherwise be dealt with in a family environment.

“If this is not appropriate, officers should consider tools such as restorative justice or community resolutions. Every effort should be made to avoid holding young people in police cells overnight.

“By engaging with ‘looked after’ children in non-crisis situations we can help build positive relationships and earn their trust.

“All of this will be impossible, however, without better data – which is currently lacking.”

Children’s home market ‘run in the interests of the providers’

The report also warns that children in homes are more likely to be placed far from family and to run away. In 2012-13, 9% of children in homes went missing as opposed to 1% in foster care. In 2013, 31% of children in homes were living outside their local authority boundary and more than 20 miles from home, compared to 10% of children in foster placements.

Ann Coffey MP, chair of the All-Parliamentary Group on Missing Children, described the children’s care market as “run in the interests of the providers, not in the interests of children and young people.”

Overall, in 2014, 25% of children in care were living in homes deemed ‘adequate’ by Ofsted, 59% in ‘good’ homes and only 16% in homes deemed ‘outstanding’. Children have been placed in homes deemed adequate or worse by 97% of local authorities and the number of homes deemed inadequate rose from 6% in 2013-14 to 9% in 2014-15.

The largest providers of children’s care include the Cambian Group, Acorn Care and Education Group, the Keys Group and the Priory Group.

Many of these groups are being run for profit, with the children’s home market worth £7bn in England. For example, in 2014 the Cambian Group’s revenue increased by 12% to £240.6m and the CEO received a total remuneration package worth £9.4m.

However, 11% of staff in private children’s homes are being paid at or below the living wage and staff work on average 38.6 hours each week, compared to 33.9 hours in state-run homes.




Pete   30/03/2016 at 16:17

I have worked along side Children that have been arrested for five years. I have been saying this for four years . Kids are being taken in to custody for silly offences. The carers are mostly terrible . I see some times moths go past when it's all ways the same home. one so called carer had a gbh conviction. Very bad situation

Withheld   29/04/2016 at 08:46

Glad to see someone finally writing about the shocking state of private childcare providers. I work for Cambian and the ethos and atitude towards their service users is appaling.They are seen as walking pound signs.We are currently at 110% occupancy,purely to increase profit,with no provision to manage these increases in numbers.Understaffed ,very poorly trained and no pay rise for staff in over 5 years.Very aggressive cost cutting to maximise profit for ceo and share holders is being implemented at ground level and is having a direct impact on the young people.When staff try and raise a concern they are told "If you don't like it,there is the door".I urge people to do their resarch before using this company,staff reviews on Indeed,Glassdoor,etc. A ticking time bomb...

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