Police resources drained by cost of call-outs to children’s homes

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THE high number of call-outs from some children’s homes is draining police resources and increasing the risk of young people in care being criminalised, according to a leading charity.

A briefing paper published by the Howard League for Penal Reform today reports that police in England and Wales are taking their safeguarding duties extremely seriously, but forces are also spending considerable time and resources dealing with minor issues in children’s homes that should not be brought to their attention.

One force told the Howard League that it had been called because a child had squirted a member of staff with water, while another force received a report about a boy who had pulled down a curtain.

The briefing paper said: “There is no doubt that the police are, and should, be involved with serious incidents involving children in residential care. It is the case, however, that considerable police time and resources are being spent dealing with issues that should not have been brought to their attention.”

It said all forces spoken to as part of the charity’s research reported call-outs for minor incidents or because care home staff could not cope with a child’s behaviour.

Concerns were also raised that some homes were calling the police in order to punish and control children.

Many of the calls received by police related to looked after children going missing, with officers being asked at times to retrieve children from safe locations known to care home staff because they had nobody available.

An investigation by The Yorkshire Post earlier this year found a child was reported missing every 96 minutes in the region, with children in care accounting for one in five of those involved.

The briefing paper - the second in the Howard League’s two-year programme to end the criminalisation of children in residential care - also reveals the way that many forces are working closely with children’s homes and councils to reduce unnecessary call-outs and prevent vulnerable children being drawn into the criminal justice system.

West Yorkshire Police has designated two PCSOs to work specifically with staff in children’s homes in the Wakefield area, where call-outs had been particularly problematic and demanding.

It also has a specially-trained crime reduction officer who carries out non-judgemental interviews to find out why children have gone missing. One such interview revealed that a child in care was going to McDonald’s to use the wi-fi and incidents ended when the home installed wi-fi at the request of the police.

Detective Inspector Dave Rogerson, of Wakefield District Safeguarding Unit, said the Erase project had been funded by Wakefield Council until late autumn 2018. It focuses on understanding why some children go missing frequently, measures needed to support them and reducing the number of times a child goes missing.

“The officers have been getting to know the youngsters and building trust with them, to try and encourage them to tell us what’s wrong and help us work with them to put it right,” Insp Rogerson said.

“Building trust on this level clearly takes time so this is a long term project.”

Howard League chief executive Frances Crook said the charity was proud of its role in reducing child arrests nationally, but its research showed children in care were being criminalised unnecessarily.