News Policy, Guidance & Law Safeguarding

Over-criminalisation of looked after children – youth justice update

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) has announced that the YJB will lose some of its responsibilities with the creation of a new Youth Custody Service. Charlie Taylor, who last year conducted a review into UK youth justice (2016), will replace Lord Tom McNally as chair of the board in charge of preventing young people re-offending and ensuring custody is secure.

The YJB will continue providing independent scrutiny of the whole system and share best practice and the new body will operate as a distinct arm of the HM Prison and Probation Service – overseeing custody operations and contract management.

Justice Secretary Elizabeth Truss said:

“These changes will enable the YJB to build on its strong track record and focus on its statutory function of providing vital independent advice on, and scrutiny of, the whole system, advising the Government on what standards to set for the youth justice system and monitoring delivery of those standards.

The announcement comes after the YJB admitted that the current secure estate is “not fit for the purpose” of caring for and rehabilitating young people.

Taylor’s (2016) review found that although the number of children convicted fell by 79 per cent between 2007 and 2015, the reoffending rate is still high, and almost seven in ten children sentenced to custody commit another offence within a year of release.

Over-criminalisation of looked after children

Taylor’s review reported specific concerns about the over-criminalisation of looked after children, particularly in care homes. As a result Taylor recommended:

  • Local authorities make sure that care home staff are properly trained to resolve minor incidents without recourse to the police, and protocols are established with police forces to agree a proportionate approach to offending in care homes (para 77);
  • Various bodies work together to ensure police apply full discretion in responding to incidents in children’s homes, create a presumption of no formal criminal justice action being taken unless absolutely necessary, and consider adopting the schools protocol in relation to minor offences committed in children’s homes (para 81).

However, in a report published on Friday 24th February 2017, the Youth Custody Improvement Board makes a number of recommendations – none of which specifically address Taylor’s recommendations or those of the Laming (2016) Review on the over-criminalisation of looked after children.

The Standing Committee for Youth Justice (SCYJ) has responded to Charlie Taylor’s review of the youth justice system in England and Wales, and the government’s response stating:

“The unnecessary criminalisation of looked after children is completely unacceptable and the government has a duty to address”

Relevant reports:

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