Magistrates point finger at staff over ‘flood’ of care home children in court

Children in care are being fast-tracked into the criminal justice system because staff in private care homes are unable to manage their behaviour, campaigners claimed at last week’s Youth Justice Board annual conference.

Following the conference, the Magistrates’ Association called for a meeting with children’s minister Beverley Hughes to discuss their concerns about the growing number of children in England being taken to court for minor offences including criminal damage.

John Fassenfelt, chair of the association’s youth courts committee, said this week that there was a “flood of cases across the country”.

In one case, a 14-year-old girl with learning difficulties was taken to court for causing about 30 of criminal damage to a door frame and a wooden drawer.

The local youth court questioned why the case had been brought to court, and raised concern that procedures at the care home allowed police to get involved “at a very early stage”.

In another case, a child in a private care home was taken to court for breaking a broom costing 10, despite paying for a replacement.

Fassenfelt said such cases were indicative of what was happening around the country. He said the responsibility for training staff to deal with difficult behaviour lay with the managers of care homes.

Home secretary Charles Clarke told last week’s conference that looked-after children were particularly likely to end up in the criminal justice system.

He said: “We need to work harder to identify the particular needs of children in these circumstances and see what kind of support to offer.”

John Kemmis, chief executive of charity Voice for the Child in Care, told the conference that staff were calling the police because “they often don’t have the skills to deal with children’s behaviour when it starts to escalate”.

Jon Banwell, manager of Aldine House Secure Children’s Centre in Sheffield, said the problems were occurring because of a lack of guidance over managing the behaviour of difficult children in care.

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