• The Guardian

Half of children in youth custody have been in care system, review finds

Children in care are six times more likely than other young people to be cautioned or convicted of a crime, year-long inquiry by Lord Laming shows

Children in care are being ‘sucked into the criminal justice system for trivial reasons’, Lord Laming told the Times.

Children in care are six times more likely to be cautioned or convicted of a crime than other young people, new research has found.

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A review by Lord Laming for the Prison Reform Trust also found half the children in youth custody came from foster or residential care.

The government is being urged to launch a reform programme to help improve improve the lives of children in care.

The report is the result of a year-long inquiry that received data from 60% of local authorities and young people who have been in care.

It found about half of the 1,000 children in custody in England and Wales have experience of the care system, despite fewer than 1% of all children in England, and 2% of those in Wales, being in care.

It costs more than £200,000 a year to keep a young person in a secure children’s home and the annual cost of a place in a young offender institution is about £60,000.

Cross-bench peer Lord Laming told the Times police were sometimes involved in situations that would normally be dealt with by parents.

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He said the police had been called when a child “stole” food from the kitchen of his care home or when a teenager trashed his room.“Most families deal with this sort of challenging behaviour within the family,” he said. “Once the police are called, it becomes theft or criminal damage and it goes on the child’s record.

“We must stop having children in care sucked into the criminal justice system for trivial reasons.”

The report recommends that social services and criminal justice agencies work together better and the police improve practices regarding prosecution of children and young people in care.

Juliet Lyon, the director of the Prison Reform Trust, said: “By listening to children in care about how they have got drawn into trouble, this review provides practical and workable solutions to help break the depressing route from chaos to care to custody.”

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