Half of the children behind bars have been in care, report finds

Prison Reform Trust calls on government to reduce the number of children in care ending up in custody


Children with experience of the care system make up less than two per cent of the population but about half of the child prison population, according to a new report from the Prison Reform Trust.

The report, chaired by Lord Laming, calls the unnecessary involvement of the criminal justice system in children’s lives ‘a tragic waste’ and calls for an extensive an integrated programme of reform.

It points to the case of the police being called when a child in a care home raided the fridge as an example of children getting sucked into the system for trivial reasons.

‘This report provides a golden opportunity for our society to transform the life opportunities for children and young people who have to look to the state to be their parents,’ Lord Laming commented. ‘It sets out in clear terms an action plan on how to reduce the number of young people in care progressing into custody which is costly to them and to us all.’

The major recommendations include:

  • the establishment of a cross-departmental cabinet sub-committee
  • early support for vulnerable families
  • an improvement in the quality of care provided by the state
  • stronger prevention, diversion and rehabilitation measures
  • tailored support for children from minority groups
  • enhanced support for young people leaving care.

Improving the life chances of children in care was an important plank of last week’s Queen’s Speech, with proposals for a ‘care leavers covenant’ that would establish zero tolerance of state failure in the care system and ensure care leavers have equal opportunities.

Prime Minister David Cameron wrote in the Times:

“I believe that when the state becomes a child’s parent, we should — just like any loving parent — bust a gut to help give them every advantage we can. But in too many cases, it’s clear that we are failing to be the kind of parent that these children need.”

The Prison Reform Trust has welcomed the government’s commitments, but calls on it to prioritise reducing the number of children from the care system ending up behind bars.

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