The Fostering Network warmly welcomes the publication of Lord Laming’s independent review of children in care’s involvement in the criminal justice system in England and Wales. We agree that ‘aiming to reduce the disproportionate number of young people who are, or have been, in public care progressing into custody’ is laudable, and we believe that, if implemented, the recommendations made within the report will make a positive difference to the lives of children in care.
Too often negative statements are made around children in care which are both harmful and misleading. This review is clear and helpful in stating that 94 per cent of children of looked after children in England and Wales don’t get into trouble with the law. And when considering the six per cent of looked after children who do have involvement with the criminal justice system, it is vitally important to understand that children in care and care leavers are being over-criminalised for minor offences.
We welcome the recommendation that police forces should be allowed ‘to record low-level, crime-related behaviour by children and young people in a way that ensures referral to a welfare agency to address the behaviour, does not create a criminal record and cannot be disclosed by an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check.’ Currently minor incidents that might be dealt with by parents – or, in some cases, with a ‘verbal warning’ from the police – are too often quickly escalated for children in care so that they end up in the criminal justice system when their peers would not.
Lord Laming makes it clear that ‘starting at the point of evidence of criminal behaviour is for many young people simply too late in the day.’ Prevention is, and always has been, better than the cure. Prevention is better for society, for the economy and, most importantly, for the children and families involved. And that is why we re-iterate our previous calls that the Government ensures that early intervention funding does not continue to be a casualty of local authority budget cuts.
Good foster care can be, and is, a protective factor for fostered children, many of whom have had a traumatic start to life coming from backgrounds of deprivation, abuse and neglect – all of which are factors that can lead to a range of emotional, social and behavioural difficulties, including anti-social and offending behaviour. The role of foster carers in managing challenging behaviour must be recognised, and proper training support must be given to foster carers.
Staying Put and When I am Ready, which allow young people who are settled in foster care to stay with their foster carers up to the age of 21 in England and Wales, must both be sufficiently funded and consistently implemented by their respective Government’s so that young care leavers have the best possible chance of a successful transition to adulthood.
As Laming’s report says : ‘Investing in childhood is more than a nice thing to do. It has a real value that goes beyond the child as it facilitates the future wellbeing of society.’ We couldn’t agree more.