- MPs and peers call for officers to be given the discretion to respond differently to low-level crime related behavior.
- Children and young people in residential care homes are at particular risk of being criminalised.
- Parliamentarians have been told by police that limited flexibility results in children unnecessarily receiving criminal records.
- Report calls for overhaul of police procedures to improve the relationship between children and the police.
In a report published today, Parliamentarians call for a change in police procedures so that some child behaviours, such as 'sexting' or fighting in residential children's homes, can be dealt with in a different way by the police, avoiding the child having a criminal record which can undermine their future life chances.
It is one of a series of recommendations put forward by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children (APPGC) a year after its inquiry found that the relationship between the police and young people is often founded on mutual mistrust.
Building Trust: One year onshows that Home Office rules allow police officers only limited options when recording criminal behaviour and many children receive 'out of court disposals' that needlessly form part of their criminal record. For so-called 'experimental' behaviour, such as consensual sexting between young people of similar ages, the APPGC wants the police to be able to take the issue seriously, while also having greater discretion to refer a young person to another welfare agency to resolve the matter, without this forming part of their record.
Some groups of children and young people are at particular risk of being drawn into the criminal justice system, with children in care - who are up to three times more likely to be convicted or cautioned - being a prime example. The APPGC learned that, last year, 47 children's homes in one police force area generated 3,500 calls to the police. Rules around crime recording contained in National Crime Recording Standards and Home Office Counting Rules should be amended so these call-outs can be handled in a similar way as in schools. In addition, the review of residential care, led by Sir Martin Narey, should consider the management of incidents in children's homes and make recommendations to ensure that the police are not called unnecessarily.
The report shows that significant progress has been made in the last 12-months, not least through the introduction of a national strategy by police chiefs to improve the policing of children. Similarly, 17-year-olds are now classified as juveniles when in custody - affording them most of the same rights as children - and legislation will soon be introduced so that no child can be detained in police cells under the Mental Health Act.
However gaps remain that mean children's interactions with the police can be negative, creating a pattern of mistrust that persists into adulthood. The report also calls on government to:
- Transfer children, who have been refused bail, from police custody to local authority accommodation without delay.
- Require police forces to provide regular data on the numbers of children held in custody, and extend the duty to transfer them to local authority care to include those children charged for breach of bail.
- Foster positive relationships between the police and young people in the community by developing a sustainable strategy for the Safer Schools Partnership programme, which enables police to work with children in school.
- Improve police use of stop and search powers on children and require officers to record a visual estimation of age if the actual date of birth is unknown, so that there is more accurate data on how these powers are being used on children.
- Improve the ways innovative approaches to policing children and young people are shared between forces - including developing national protocols for reducing the prosecution of children in care based on procedures developed by police in the South East.
- Ensure that the College of Policing consults with children and young people's advisory groups to ensure that the experiences and views of young people informs the training and professional development of the police force.
Tim Loughton MP, co-chair of the APPGC, said:
'The police are ideally placed to identify children at risk and intervene before problems escalate, yet community policing initiatives, such as the Safer Schools Partnership, are often the first to feel the brunt of budget cuts. The welcome protection of the policing budget in the Spending Review should enable prioritisation of this important and effective preventative work. If the police are to play their part in tackling serious issues, such as maltreatment, abuse and child sexual exploitation - as well as preventing young people from getting into trouble with the police - a sustainable vision for community policing is urgently needed.'
Baroness Massey of Darwen, co-chair of the APPGC said:
'The rules that dictate how the police record their response to criminal behaviour mean that many young people end up with a criminal record for trivial offences. We know for example, that teenagers are being added to police databases for sexting with their peers. In cases such as these, police should have the discretion to refer the child to another agency for support - their school, social services or counselling, for example - without it forming a permanent part of the record held against the name and undermining their future.'
Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of the National Children's Bureau which clerks the APPGC, said:
'Resorting to criminal sanctions for childhood behaviours is often a waste of police time and counter-productive. It's time to rethink how the police respond to those children whose behaviour is often related to their vulnerabilities and need for support. What this report shows is that if police treat under-18s as children, being mindful of their needs, it will help young people address the root causes of their behaviour and grow up to have a more positive attitude towards the police.'
Read the report: 'Building Trust: one year on'