The shocking number of calls made to police from children's homes across Yorkshire

Children's homes across Yorkshire are calling police as many as 200 times a year, new figures released today can reveal.

By Lucy Leeson
Monday, 8th July 2019, 7:00 am
Children's homes across Yorkshire are calling police as many as200 times a year, new figures released today can reveal.
Children's homes across Yorkshire are calling police as many as200 times a year, new figures released today can reveal.

Between them, North Yorkshire Police, Humberside Police and South Yorkshire Police received 4,300 call-outs from children's homes in 2018.

One home called South Yorkshire Police 253 times, whilst another in the Humberside Police area phoned 235 times - prompting concerns from a national charity that children in residential care are in danger of being criminalised.

North Yorkshire Police received a total of 910 calls between January 1 and December 31, 2018. Of the 910 calls, 361 were reporting missing children, while 206 calls were over safeguarding issues.

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Detective Superintendent Allan Harder, Head of Safeguarding at North Yorkshire Police said: “If children are unable to live with their own families for whatever reason, the local authority has a duty to look after and provide accommodation for them.

“North Yorkshire Police has been proactively working with partner agencies and children’s home across the County and City of York, with the intention of ensuring that the collective response to reports are appropriate, which has had some positive results for children and young people.

“However, there are occasions when the arrest of a young person will be necessary. When arrests do occur the police continue to work with children’s social care and youth justice to identify pathways away from criminality which are intended to improve the future of the young person."

Humberside Police received a total of 1507 calls in the same time period. Of that total, 964 were reporting missing children, 291 for alleged criminal offences and 80 were for safeguarding.

Detective Chief Inspector Stu Miller: “The majority of the calls that we get in relation to children’s homes relate to missing people.

“Officers from our community policing teams and missing person teams work closely with staff at children’s homes to prevent incidents of children going missing.

“Often this involves working with the child to understand the bigger picture and the factors that led to their disappearance. Only then can we help the child to work through any problems, preventing them from going missing again.

“As with all reports of crimes involving children, we assess each incident on a case by case basis and take appropriate action, seeking the best outcome for all involved parties.

“We have early intervention teams that work closely with the youth offending services and the staff at the care homes. They work to educate children previously involved in crime, helping them to choose a more positive path.

“We use local resolutions where possible, in many cases working with offender and victim to resolve the issues without the need for criminal proceedings.

“Where it is absolutely necessary and proportionate to do so we will seek criminal proceedings.

“We have had occasions where inappropriate calls for service have come from children’s homes. In these circumstances we offer our support and assistance to staff to help them take action to prevent further inappropriate calls.”

South Yorkshire Police had 1883 calls, of which 887 were for missing children, 226 for alleged criminal offences and 261 for safeguarding concerns.

The figures were obtained by the Howard League for Penal Reform charity.

The charity has analysed data provided by police forces, who between them received almost 23,000 call-outs from children’s homes in 2018. The figures show that while some homes do not call the police at all, others pick up the phone again and again.

The briefing suggests that, although some children’s homes are calling the police excessively, efforts to reduce criminalisation are now having an impact. The proportion of children formally criminalised while in residential care was reduced from 15 per cent to 10 per cent between 2014 and 2018.

Chief executive Frances Cook said: “A child living in residential care has more often than not experienced a range of problems early in life, from acute family stress to abuse and neglect. These children need nurture and support, not repeated contact with the police and criminalisation.

“But our research shows that some children’s homes are picking up the phone again and again over matters that would never involve the police if they happened in a family home.

“While the figures we publish today show there is some way to go before the police and children’s homes properly understand the scale of the problem, official figures from the Department for Education suggest the efforts of the Howard League and others are now having an impact. We need to see everyone build on this, with more action to stop children in residential care having their lives blighted with a criminal record.”

The briefing calls on police forces and the Government to improve their recording practices and interrogate their data to better understand the scale of criminalisation of children in residential care.

Currently, the Department for Education (DfE) only collects criminalisation data for children who have been looked after continuously for the last 12 months. This means that there are a large number of children who have been looked after for shorter periods – 26,680 during the year 2017-18 – for whom levels of criminalisation are unknown.

Almost half the calls to police from children’s homes in 2018 were in response to children going missing. This is critical information as missing incidents appear to be a factor in high rates of criminalisation, for reasons that are complex and individual to each child.

Some children will be going missing because they are being criminally exploited, perhaps in order to run drugs. Others will be criminalised as a result of having gone missing, perhaps trying to get home, for related incidents such as stealing to survive.