reducing offending by looked after children

What you can do – a six point plan for local councillors

  1. Understand the scale of the problem in your area. Ask your youth offending team for a snapshot of the number of children on their caseload who are looked after; the types of offences they have committed; how many have ended up in custody and what would help YOT staff in supporting them, and ensuring they don’t go on to commit further offences. Also, see how your authority compares with similar areas by interrogating DfE data on local offending rates.
  2. Ensure that every looked after child appearing in court is appropriately accompanied. Ideally this should be by their allocated social worker, but if this is not possible, a representative from children’s services who knows the child’s history, has access to their care plan and can answer any questions the court may have about their placement and what additional support children’s services are putting in place to ensure the child is helped to comply with any subsequent order.
  3. Incentivise the children’s homes and fostering agencies used by your authority to respond to mis-behaviour and minor offending restoratively, instead of calling the police. Make restorative justice-trained carers a formal requirement of all placement contracts commissioned by your authority. This will prevent children placed in residential care from being treated differently to those in foster care, or living with their parents.  
  4. Also, make sure the protocol between your authority, local police, the youth offending service and residential children’s homes providers, is up-to-date and in use. This should clearly set out your authority’s expectations for dealing with in-home incidents, including when it might be appropriate to involve the police.
  5. Use your children in care council as a sounding board. Ask them what they think would make a difference to keep looked after children out of trouble.
  6. Finally, start a dialogue with your local police force. Some areas have introduced an informal presumption against charging looked after children as a means of reducing the number who end up in the justice system unnecessarily.  

 Good and interesting practice from around the country

Wiltshire: Reducing offending by looked after children (ROBLAC) – A multiagency panel, including representatives from the police, YOS, CPS, children’s social care, CAMHS and others, working at both strategic and operational level to improve outcomes for children. Monthly meetings are convened at which looked after children at risk of offending, and gaps in service provision, are identified and multi-agency packages of support produced to prevent or reduce offending behaviour.

Essex: To respond to the needs of Essex looked after children, and looked after children placed in the County from other authorities, the youth offending service has introduced measures aimed at improving data collection and practice with children who offend. A new transfer policy, for example, requests specific information regarding looked after status, social worker and IRO contacts every time a child transfers in or out of the YOT. Children cannot be transferred until this information has been provided.

In addition, an information coordinator holds a database storing information on all looked after children known to Essex YOS, to ensure that Essex looked after children placed in other areas (or into Essex by external authorities) don’t slip through the net.

Essex also regularly cross-references all new YOS cases against the database used by children’s services to make sure the information they hold is up to date and every looked after child is accounted for. Each month, they receive a list of all children looked after by the County and check all new care entrants against their own data systems to see if any are already known to the YOS.

North Lincolnshire: A dedicated, comprehensive CAMHS service for looked after children. Developed to address a perceived gap in local and national service provision, a tiered CAMHS model was introduced which delivered targeted and specialist input with the aim of improving access to mental health care.  Services are targeted according to 4 tiers of need: Tier 1 provides services to all children in care, tier 2 to children assessed as being of moderate need, tier 3 to those with moderate/ high need, and tier 4 to children with high need. Outcomes include: fewer placement breakdowns and a reduction in offending.

Lancashire: Who cares? Cross boundary looked after children, a report produced by overview and scrutiny councillors aimed at highlighting the challenges associated with out-of-area placements, both for local authorities and children. Recommendations included: a national system of notifications, to aid information-sharing; and the strengthening of Ofsted’s regulatory powers to enable them to enforce national minimum standards in children’s homes.

Kent: With the largest concentration of residential children’s homes in England, (all independently run, many concentrated in small pockets along the coast) and a high number of out-of-area placements, concerns had been raised by many in Kent, including local magistrates, that looked after children were appearing in court for minor offences which could have been dealt with without recourse to the police. To tackle this, the County Council has begun a process of engaging with individual home providers, encouraging them to adopt restorative justice-based approaches to behaviour management as a means of preventing the unnecessary criminalisation of children in care.

Nottingham: In an attempt to tackle the high number of police call-outs to residential children’s homes, and the number of looked after children ending up with criminal records, Nottingham has a dedicated ‘children in care’ police officer who, working closely with children’s services, has introduced a restorative approach to dealing with conflict. Having successfully used restorative justice in schools, the officer has close links with residential homes in the city, and is the first port of call for home staff when incidents occur. Using restorative practice to bring everyone involved in incidents, both children and carers, together to discuss what has happened and how it can be put right, outcomes include fewer looked after children entering the youth justice system.