Lord Laming: Keeping young people in care out of prison isn’t about resources but society

Lord Laming talks to Community Care about his review into why looked-after-children are more likely to end up in custody

Lord Laming

Lord Laming and I have been talking for nearly 10 minutes about his review into why looked-after children are more likely to end up in custody before the word ‘resources’ comes up. And not focusing on resources, it appears, is the point.

“We are talking about our approach, society’s approach, to young people who have had a really poor start in life and into how we can help these young people regain what they may have missed out in their early years in order that they can become fulfilled and integrated into the community, like ‘ordinary’ young people,” says Laming.

Passionate, articulate and entirely focused on the outcomes of young people, it’s easy to understand why the crossbench peer was entrusted to lead a review into why 30% of boys and 61% of girls in custody have a background in the care system.

“Inspiration and imagination”

His 2003 Victoria Climbié inquiry report, and his 2009 review of child protection following the death of Baby P, led to a series of reforms that shaped social work and child safeguarding for the past decade. While he still has some thoughts about child protection, he is very much focused on his new review.

Laming says the review, announced last month and established by the Prison Reform Trust, will be a broad search for “inspiration and imagination” in how best to work with looked-after children, and how to address society’s approach to working with children in care who are often “criminalised more readily than children who are not in care”.

He describes circumstances where children in care may lash out, get angry, or trash a bedroom. If a child was with their family such incidents would be handled within the family, but for children in care it often results in the police being called, a day in court and the beginning of a journey towards custody for the young person.

“There seems to be some evidence that children in care are likely to be brought to the attention of the police and then to the courts more readily than children in what we would call ‘ordinary’ families,” Laming explains, “And if that’s the case we ought to look at that and we ought to see what might be done in order to reverse that.”

Practical recommendations

Laming has high hopes for the review, which will consult care leavers and children in care as well as experts and professionals.

He hopes that it will identify the current pattern of what happens for children in care, share successful practice, examine the rates of children who come into care at a local level and make some “really practical recommendations” that can go toward improving the life chances of children in care.

But the debate needs to be about attitudes and outcomes, before it comes around to resources, Laming believes. Only by improving practice and finding positive outcomes will resources follow, he says, and that goes across the whole of children’s services.

‘One shot’

“It may be that resources are needed but I would like there to be a degree of rigour and discipline. More resources to be spent how, and toward what achievements? I think that if we can demonstrate that by taking various measures, [and] we can demonstrate that it will improve the life chances of the most vulnerable young people in our society, then I think that’s a pretty strong base on which to argue for more resources.”

The most important part of the review for him is the good practice and the recommendations, and he wants to get it turned around fast, preferably early next year, on the grounds that every day and week is important time that passes in a young person’s life.

“Each one of them is unique within themselves and each one has one shot at their lives – and let’s make it the best shot they can have,” he says.

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One Response to Lord Laming: Keeping young people in care out of prison isn’t about resources but society

  1. Catherine Darling August 7, 2015 at 4:19 pm #

    I am 7o and, like Lord Laming I am sure, each year for so many years, I think this is it – child abuse will be addressed, and then it is not. As a specialist in PTSD (Trauma) I realize that most children in care, as those who misuse substances, suffer from the effects of the abuse or neglect as the cause of their past lives. They bear psychological scars, and unprocessed neurological material in the subconscious that impact upon their behaviour when triggered, and psychotic type of behaviour or try to numb down of these feelings by drugs and alcohol which then bring them to the attention of the judicial system, through no fault of their own.

    These children, both as teenagers and on into midlife, have been let down by society, and are punished ineffectively and costly by prison etc…. small cheap motivational, or mentoring programmes for those who have suffered many atrocities as children to say the least the loss of parents when children are removed or they have suffered institutional abuse, etc. Whilst soldiers who had the opportunity to meet maturation in their psyche and know where to return to when contacting PTSD are granted treatment.

    Its no good talking to, or mothering, or mentoring or motivational talking that will help them function well, that is like giving someone with a broken leg a walking stick it helps but does not really heal the problem……….psychological injuries need clinical specialists…too expensive? come on the guys I have seen them get out of the system, providing for themselves, feeling confident, memories will not go away but unprocessed life material is just as petrifying as that unprocessed sound of a bullet, and more disfunctioning as any physical disability…..as no one understands that until these neurons leave the hippocampus and settle into the brain with memory etc…they will cause childhood behaviour and perceptions to rule uncognitively causing absolute havoc.