9.5 The Sussex Joint Protocol to Reduce the Criminalisation of Children in Care and Care leavers
Date of last review November 2023
Date of next review November 2026
- Introduction(Jump to)
- Key principles(Jump to)
- Prevention(Jump to)
- Responding to incidents in Placements(Jump to)
- Support for children and young people in the criminal justice system(Jump to)
- Information sharing(Jump to)
- Governance and monitoring(Jump to)
'We have made significant strides in reducing the criminalisation of children and young people...This is a credit to the agencies and practitioners involved. However, although the vast majority of looked-after children and care leavers do not get involved with the justice system, they remain over-represented compared to others in the criminal justice system…This is a challenge we must meet.’ The national protocol on reducing unnecessary criminalisation of looked-after children and care leavers November 2018
The National Protocol on Reducing Criminalisation of Looked-After Children and Care Leavers describes ‘what’ needs to happen across the country.
This local protocol represents a Sussex multi-agency partnership commitment to reducing the criminalisation of Sussex’s Children in Care and care leavers and reflects the principles of the National Protocol by setting out how it will be implemented locally.
It has been developed to meet local circumstances and builds upon what is already established practice to support our most vulnerable children. This approach has been developed through a multi-agency steering group which have brought together representatives of partner agencies who are key to supporting children and young people and those who are key to the criminal justice system.
In addition to children and young people in care and those young people who have experienced care (care leavers), this local protocol also seeks to reduce unnecessary criminalisation of care leavers up to the age of 25.
Every effort should be made to avoid the unnecessary criminalisation of children in care and care leavers, including through early intervention and prevention services. This is in recognition that many children in care and care leavers transitioning to adulthood have experienced abuse and trauma, affecting their emotional and behavioural development, potentially making them particularly vulnerable to involvement in the criminal justice system, and that criminalisation can be a barrier to successful transition to adulthood and future life prospects.
The primary objective is for agencies to work together to prevent and reduce:
1) offending and
2) the unnecessary criminalisation of vulnerable children and care leavers, accepting that children’s welfare and safety are paramount
It is every professional’s responsibility when working with children to strive to understand the underlying causes of a young person’s behaviour.
All professionals, including social workers, teachers, police officers, foster parents, children's home staff and YOT workers, will strive to ensure that any special educational needs (including communication and interaction, cognition and learning and social, emotional and mental health difficulties) have been identified and should be acknowledged and addressed in the management of the response to the behaviour.
Understanding the needs and perspective of the child or young person at the centre of an incident and listening to their voice should be central to all agencies practice and their response to incidents involving children in care and care leavers.
Whilst this protocol aims to prevent and reduce offending and avoid criminalisation of children in care, victims and communities have a right to be protected from all types of offending. Therefore, where the vulnerable do offend, it is important that the rights and needs and interests of victims are given due consideration in any decision-making process relating to the offending of children.
De-escalation and restorative approaches should underpin response to negative behaviour to help avoid the prosecution of children in care and care leavers wherever possible. Sussex Police and partners will seek opportunities to provide evidence based interventions for this cohort, paying particular attention to offences such as drug possession, which contribute to long term health inequalities. We are also mindful that children with a lack of trust in the police should not be disadvantaged, and seek to successfully implement the No Comment Pathway.
Restorative Justice (RJ) is a process whereby the victim has an opportunity to be heard and state the impact of the behaviour, and the offender has the opportunity to understand the consequences of and take responsibility for their actions. Such RJ approaches can take place informally within the care placement in response to an incident (where police involvement is not required) or as part of a recognised police outcome where it is considered to be appropriate.
Restorative and diversionary approaches should underpin responses to incidents, whether the behaviour occurs in a child’s placement or the wider community.
Children and young people already within the youth and criminal justice systems need protection from escalation and these principles apply equally to them. Persistent and more serious offending can indicate that the young person has significant unmet needs and responses to offending should recognise this.
Children and young people on remand or custodial sentence are often highly vulnerable. Planning for the through-care and resettlement of young people on remand or serving a custodial sentence should start from their entering their remand placement, or custodial establishment, and involve all relevant professionals in their lives.
Support for children and young people is individualised and based on their unique needs and circumstances.
Professionals working with care-experienced young people should understand the impact of abuse and trauma on development, particularly with regard to emotional development and the ability to regulate behaviour.
All agencies should understand the specific needs of children and young people (both UK and foreign nationals) who have been trafficked or are victims of modern slavery.
Agencies should contribute and agree to the joint understanding of factors which increase the risks of young people becoming criminalised. This information should be used to target prevention efforts effectively.
The views of children in care and care leavers should be sought when commissioning health services, including accessing support services for both physical and mental health needs. This should include but not solely encompass neurodevelopmental conditions such as Autism Spectrum Conditions, Attention Deficit Disorders, and foetal alcohol spectrum. These conditions will impact on children’s cognition, understanding, communication and therefore their capacity. Some studies have suggested the prevalence of such conditions in individuals who interact with the criminal justice system may be as high as 30%. In addition to this the children in care population may have an incidence of neurodevelopmental disorders up to 72%. Therefore, children who are both in care and coming into contact with youth justice services are very likely to have at least one of these conditions.
Health services have a duty to give parity of esteem to the mental health needs as to the physical health of children and young people and to assist partner agencies to understand how children can best be supported to divert them from criminal behaviour.
In order to thrive, children and young people have certain key needs that good parents generally meet. The corporate parenting principles set out seven principles that local authorities must have regard to when exercising their functions in relation to children in care and young people, as follows:
Directors of Children’s Services and Lead Members for Children should ensure that relevant partners understand how they can assist local authorities apply the principles in relation to the services those partners may provide. ‘Relevant partners’ include local policing bodies and Chief Officers of Police, local probation boards and probation services, youth offending teams, clinical commissioning groups, NHS England, schools and educational institution,
All agencies understand that preventing children in care and care leavers from ever becoming involved with the criminal justice system significantly helps with providing them with the best outcomes.
Ensuring children in care and care leavers have the right placements that meet their identified needs will significantly contribute to prevention. Placements have to be based on as full an assessment of the child's social, educational, health and other needs as possible and the networks in place to support those needs being met. Where availability of placements can differ, it is important that suitability is not compromised and that placements are registered, safe and stable. Analysis of the ACES (Adverse Child Experiences) of a child and the issues in contextual safeguarding are fundamental to effective prevention work with the child.
It is important that agencies recognise the vital role of early intervention and prevention in reducing criminalisation of children in care and care leavers. Services should co-develop an approach that includes: prevention, early intervention and appropriate response where children and young people do offend. As health is a universal service they are crucial is identifying needs at an early stage and providing preventative and early help work.
Children in care and care leavers interact with a whole range of agencies and professionals and it is important that all of them understand the reasons why children in care and care leavers may behave in particular ways which are different to the universal population; key to this is their understanding of the impact of adverse childhood experiences and trauma on children, young people and adults.
It is reported that 71% of children in care who are criminalised have emotional or behavioural health concerns compared to 51% of all children in care. Many children in care often display the most challenging behaviour due to their pre-care adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). This can be exacerbated by experiences in care and/or other problem ongoing in their lives. ACEs are potentially traumatic events that can have negative, lasting effects on health and well-being.
A key part of this protocol is to promote awareness raising of why children in care and care leavers need to be specifically considered when making decisions about involvement of the criminal justice system. This will be done through the development of a range of multi-agency training options; face to face, e learning and building into current training packages the agreed approach for children in care and care leavers as set out in this protocol and the reasons for that.
To reduce the likelihood of incidents occurring, and young people coming into contact with the criminal justice system, agencies will commit to the following:
Addressing drug and alcohol use will improve a young person’s health and reduce associated anti-social/criminal behaviour. There are a range of holistic specialist interventions available that children in care and care leavers should be supported to access, based on their personal circumstances.
Responding to incidents in Placements
Immediate risks to safety and the role of the police
Police should be called to incidents where there is an unacceptable and unmanageable level of risk to personal safety and where it is deemed highly unlikely that order will be restored without police assistance. Immediate police response will be required for incidents of serious violence or serious dangerous disorder where children, residential staff, foster parents or carers are at risk of immediate serious physical harm. In such situations, carers/placement providers should contact the police via the 999 system.
Staff and carers need to consider the nature and seriousness of the incident before deciding whether to involve the police immediately, at a later stage, or whether to involve them at all. If appropriate a referral or update should be made to mental health support services.
In circumstances where an offence/incident does not pose any immediate safety risk (and where victim/s indicate that they do not wish to make statements in support of potential charge/prosecution) then such incidents should be recorded and managed internally, without the need to involve the police.
It should be recognised that each individual case should be assessed with a regard to whether or not there is an immediate risk to personal safety, being mindful that arrest and subsequent contact with the criminal justice system brings its own risks for children.
If the decision to call the police is made, then, upon the arrival of the police at the scene, a joint consultation (police and carer) should inform whether arrest is necessary and proportionate. The decision to arrest will remain with the Police.
Where police are notified of an incident, they will record it in accordance with the National Crime Recording Standard (NCRS) if it meets the standard for recording a crime.
They may or may not attend depending on the nature of the incident. Recording a crime that meets the threshold is absolute, but the decision to attend and or investigate, and utilise a number of different options for intervention is a subjective decision by the police, based on threat, harm, risk and proportionality.
If called to an incident, the police should act according to the following principles:
Inappropriate Response to Behaviour
Inappropriate response to behaviour which can be perceived as challenging can contribute to the breakdown of placements and can be linked to a drift into criminal and exploitative sub-cultures across the country. This impacts not only the likelihood of placements remaining stable and achieving successful outcomes, but the future of care leavers who are dramatically over-represented in the prison population
Support for children and young people in the criminal justice system
Where a child in care or care leaver has entered the criminal justice system the overarching aims of all professionals are as follows:
If a child in care or care leaver is charged with an offence:
If a custodial or community sentence for the young person is likely:
Support to reduce offending for those who do enter the criminal justice system
Despite all agencies best efforts, there will be instances where vulnerable children and young people including children in care and care leavers have to enter the criminal justice system. As per the National Protocol, where this does happen, it should be underpinned by the following principles:
If a child in care is charged with an offence:
Children and young people involved in incidents outside Sussex.
As a general principle, low level incidents occurring outside Sussex can be dealt with via a discussion with Sussex professionals. Otherwise, incidents are dealt with in the area where they occur.
Home local authorities must notify the receiving authority and health services that a child or young person is moving into their area either before the placement is made, or within 5 working days if an emergency placement, as required by Care Planning, Placement and Case Review (England) Regulations 2010.
All professionals should ensure that barriers to sharing information and communicating across areas or agencies are minimised.
Where a young person offends, it will be the duty of those in the area where the offence takes place to consult and discuss ways forward with the child’s responsible authority. This can include remitting the case back to the child’s home local authority area for decision to ensure that informed decision-making and appropriate action is taken to reduce the risk of repeat offending. After charging however, legal decisions cannot be remitted back to Sussex. This can only happen after a conviction.
Information sharing is a vital component to safeguarding children. It is vital agencies develop an environment of information sharing that demonstrates to young people that agencies work together and keep each other informed of developments in order to serve children’s best interests.
Any practitioner can share relevant personal information about a child lawfully if it is to keep a child safe from harm, or to protect their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. All practitioners should aim to gain consent to share information but should be mindful of situations where to do so would place a child at increased risk of harm.
Information may be shared without consent if a practitioner has reason to believe that there is good reason to do so, and that sharing the information will enhance the safeguarding of a child in a timely manner.
The information that could be shared between agencies for contextual safeguarding may include the following:
Governance and monitoring
This protocol is overseen by the Pan Sussex Safeguarding and Child Protection Policies and Proceedures Group.
Local authority Corporate Parenting Boards are designed to provide the necessary leadership to drive an ambitious and multi-agency approach to improving outcomes for children in care and care leavers. They must be confident that they have an accurate picture of offending by children in their care and should ensure systems are in place to identify all those who are offending whether placed within the home authority or outside.