12 / THE POLICE AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM
"[When I was 14,] I was robbing shops, taking Valium, up all weekend. I walked across the road, then staggered back into the path of a double decker bus. It was doing 30mph. Doctors said I was lucky to live.
"I was getting mad with it all the time. I was taking Valium and smashed my mother's place up, got the jail and came here. I'm off all that now. Don't touch it.
"This is a good place man because the staff help you to think clearer. I'd like to get a job, get out of here and get on with my life. You cannae be causing trouble all your life. I've matured basically. I'm thinking clearly now. I've changed. You learn from your mistakes.
"I haven't been to [mainstream] school since my first week in second year. I battered a teacher. You can get peace and quiet here, learn to be independent. I'll be here a few months and then up the road to move on."
Graham, student in residential school, 16.
Looked After children can too often become needy, disenfranchised and alienated adults. It is widely accepted that they are more likely to: need mental health services; go to prison; be homeless; and have their own children removed from them. The cost of wasted potential, of long-term support services including the cost of imprisonment, and of another generation of children in public care is almost beyond comprehension.
"I was getting mad with it all the time. I was taking valium and smashed my mother's place up, got the jail and came here [a residential unit]. I'm off all that now. Don't touch it." (Graham)
Research into outcomes tells us that children and young people who are Looked After are more likely to be involved in offending or anti-social behaviour. For a small minority, this may be why they have become Looked After. Young people's life circumstances are likely to be significant contributors to the reasons for their offending behaviour and it is therefore important that police officers are aware of those circumstances when considering how to address the behaviour, especially when a young person has been detained within a police station.
The police are also likely to be involved in prevention and diversionary activity in local communities where they will have an opportunity to promote the inclusion of Looked After children and young people, to build positive relationships and to provide good role models.
The majority of Looked After children and young people are Looked After for care and protection reasons. Child protection is a key priority for the police. Operational officers are alive to signs of abuse and neglect with a crucial role to play in identifying children at risk. Looked After children are also more likely to become young runaways: the police have a clear role in locating them, and helping to find out the reasons why they run away.
The police are also likely to encounter children who are affected by the actions of adults who offend, are involved in anti-social behaviour or domestic abuse, or who engage in substance misuse. Minimising the impact of such actions is a shared priority for all agencies across the corporate family.
Within the wider corporate family, the police will build on the work which has already been achieved to promote a more holistic approach to dealing with children and young people, a better understanding of the implications of referral to the Children's Reporter and building safe, inclusive communities.
Children who are Looked After at home are less likely to be known to the police as Looked After. However, their circumstances make them particularly vulnerable. It is important therefore for relevant and appropriate information to be shared to allow the police to have a full picture of the circumstances affecting the child and their home environment.
When young people do get involved in antisocial behaviour and offending it is reasonable to expect that parents (including corporate parents), families and agencies work together quickly and effectively to address this behaviour and the underlying issues that may be impacting on the way a child or young person behaves.
Children and young people who are involved in offending or who display problematic behaviour are likely to be in greater need of help to change their behaviour. Many children and young people who are Looked After are unlikely to be able to rely on support from their parents to help them to address their behaviour, and indeed their families may be part of the problem. Some children and young people with a poor experience of family life may be attracted to gangs as this can provide replacement attachments; a feeling of belonging and acceptance.
Most young people (between 70% and 80%) caught offending once do not come to the attention of the police again for further offending. This suggests that appropriate and proportionate action taken at an early stage is often the most effective response, and this is addressed in Preventing Offending By Young People: A Framework for Action [ www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/228013/0061713.pdf ] and associated guidance.
When children and young people do offend or behave badly, relevant agencies must act promptly and consistently to provide appropriate responses that are timely, proportionate, effective and that inspire community confidence. All agencies should be able to provide early and effective responses, so that children and young people can relate their actions to impact and consequences and learn from the experience.
An early and effective response will support the child or young person to engage with services, including universal services such as education, youth work and healthcare, to address identified needs. Looked After children and young people and care leavers are less likely than their peers to trust universal services, or indeed to have positive previous experience of engaging with them, so additional support may be necessary. Restorative practice encourages young people to think through the consequences of their actions, including the impact they have on their victims and communities, as well as the negative impact on themselves.
You will want to:
- Be aware of the Looked After status of the children and young people you work with.
- Make sure that staff are aware of the issues particularly affecting Looked After children and young people while maintaining a view of each child as an individual with their own strengths and pressures.
- Contribute to the community planning partnership's strategy to address the needs of Looked After children and young people and care leavers.
- Positively promote the inclusion of Looked After children and young people and care leavers in diversionary and other community activities.
- Build positive relationships with local residential care homes for young people, residential special schools and secure accommodation to make sure that children and young people feel confident to engage constructively with the police and that staff do not resort to police intervention inappropriately.
- When addressing the antisocial or offending behaviour of adults, consider the needs of the children who may be affected.
- Consider involvement of senior officers in the local authority's children's champion schemes.
- Where children and young people become involved in offending, consider what the response of a good parent would be and assist in ensuring this response is provided.
- Promote the need for consistency when dealing with children and young people and view each child or young person holistically, not according to the type of incident they may be involved in: the background of the child should be considered where appropriate.
- Be aware of the possibility that Looked After children and young people may regard gangs as replacement families.
- Work with staff in councils, particularly those in residential units, and with foster carers to raise awareness of restorative practice and to engage the corporate family in supporting young people for whom this is the best course of action. Help those caring for children to understand that, in some cases, too much formal intervention too soon is very likely to do more harm than good.
HOW WILL I KNOW I'VE MADE A DIFFERENCE?
- When you are aware of your contribution to the corporate family, and understand the special responsibility you have for Looked After children and young people and care leavers.
- When Looked After children and young people and care leavers participate in diversionary activities in local communities.
- When Looked After children and young people and care leavers are confident in engaging constructively with the police.
- When you have agreed consistent practice in addressing offending or anti-social behaviour with carers, schools and other services.
- When you understand the impact of your actions on the child's journey, and are confident about your role in improving outcomes for children and young people.