David Akinsanya writing from his own personal experience argues that, too often, young in care are simply contained and criminalised. If a permanent home can’t be found, then having a mentor would make a huge difference to young people’s lives.
Lord Laming’s review for the Prison Reform Trust has found that children in care are six times more likely to be cautioned by police or convicted of a crime than others of the same age. It is a national shame that we allow these young people to fill young offender institutions and prisons after spending so much money “taking care” of them throughout their childhoods.
Unlike in your average family home, kids in care are regularly criminalised by those caring for them: police are called out for incidents that happen to many teenagers but especially those who are harbouring pain and hurt from family breakdown, and exposure to violence and abuse. As a result children and teenagers are getting criminal records for throwing plates and smashing up their rooms, and other actions often regarded as domestic by the police called out to help manage such behaviour. But to the child in care, it’s often their first contact with the criminal justice system.
In my children’s home the police were regular visitors. I had police called on me for breaking windows, getting caught sniffing glue and fighting with other kids. By the time I was living independently at 15, I was well known to both probation and the police.
My argument has always been that if we got care right more often, lots of money could be saved – and lives too. But the problem with care is that too often it feels like we are just containing these kids. With so many moving between foster families, they often have no consistent positive adult in their lives. I have met kids who have had three social workers and eight foster placements, which often include school moves too. They have no one to walk alongside them as they navigate their life over a long period, no one to take a real interest in their long-term wellbeing.