One year on from a major inquiry into the policing of children and young people, there is still much to be done, says Kerie-Anne Ivory from NCB’s policy team.
We know that children’s first encounters with the police can have a lasting effect on how they view the police and go on to engage with them as adults. Getting the relationship right from the start can help reduce the criminalisation of children and young people.
But often that relationship is soured because of rules governing how the police respond to crime-related behaviour.
Take for example, the case of a 12-year old boy at school who gets involved in a playground fight and then is found with a small penknife in his pocket afterwards. The police are called and the boy is charged with violent behaviour but police don't know he is a child who is deeply troubled due to being bullied by his friends and abused by parents. Are the best interests of the child being served by him being burdened with a criminal record?
This was one of the concerns raised by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Children’s (APPGC) inquiry into children and the police (which is clerked by NCB’s policy team). The group’s latest report highlights the progress that has been made in the last year to strengthen the frameworks that govern police forces’ work with children and young people.
It is has been heartening to see real changes that will help ensure that all children and young people under the age of 18 have their rights promoted in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. A National Strategy for the Policing of Children and Young People, which has the potential to transform policing practice for the benefit of children, young people and wider society, has also been launched. These, and other improvements, will go a long way towards ensuring that every person under the age of 18 is treated as a child, first and foremost, in all interactions with the police.
However, more still needs to be achieved. Unfortunately, vulnerable children and young people are needlessly being drawn into the criminal justice system because police cannot use discretion over what information they record. The APPGC report highlights the case of a 14-year-old who was added to the local police database for sexting with a peer. The APPGC is calling for the introduction of a new crime recording category which allows police forces to record low-level crime-related behavior in a way that protects children from obtaining a long-term criminal record whilst making sure that they are referred to a welfare agency for support and intervention.
A change in the way crimes are recorded would also benefit children in care, who the inquiry found are at particular risk of being criminalised. Currently, the police must formally record minor incidents when they are called to children’s homes, even those that would usually be dealt with by parents if the child was living at home. Schools have a protocol for dealing with minor incidents, where head teachers are supported to use their discretion over whether an incident should be reported to the police. The APPGC is calling for the way incidents are dealt with in children’s homes to mirror the approach taken by schools, so that children in care will not be left with a criminal record unnecessarily.
One year on from the APPGC inquiry, a lot has been achieved. We hope that all agencies involved will continue to work towards making the recommendations of this latest report a reality. If we are mindful of children’s needs and vulnerabilities we can prevent children from being needlessly drawn into the criminal justice system and allow them to grow up with a more positive attitude to the police. But the police can't bring about these changes alone, especially if their hands are tied by inflexible regulations and the lack of a clear vision for sustaining outreach work with children and young people.
‘Building Trust – one year on’ is available from here.