The way police treat child victims of trafficking or sexual abuse is a ‘postcode lottery’, according to a report by MPs.
The damning report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children found a “lack of trust” between young victims and the police.
The report said that children who have been trafficked or sexually abused said they felt confused by police processes and that they were treated with a lack of respect. Too often the positive encounters these children experienced with police were due to “the enthusiasm of a handful of staff” as good practice is not widespread, the MPs noted.
“When these children come to the attention of the police under suspicion of having committed an offence, their status as victims can go unnoticed,” the report noted.
The report, the result of a 15-month inquiry by MPs and written with support from the National Children’s Bureau (NCB), also found that children who are in care or have mental health issues are more likely to come into contact with the police.
MPs found that children in care do not always get the support and protection they need, and called for guidance and protocols to be put in place to reduce “the criminalisation of children in care”.
Young people interviewed as part of the inquiry told MPs how the police were being called to deal with problems in residential homes, which would have been managed without police involvement in a school or family setting.
“Witnesses who had experienced time in care spoke of how the police were often stern with them if they ran away, raising their voices and not behaving in a supportive way which demonstrated a concern for their welfare,” the report said. “Children in care tend to only engage with the police at times of crisis, preventing them from forming a more positive view of the police.”
As a result young people in care were often reluctant to ask the police for help.